California

I'm not even sure where to begin writing up this trip but here goes!

This was definitely one of the most memorable trips we've ever been on, and certainly the most exhausting at times. It's also the first road trip (albeit a mini one) we've done as well, and the fact we could explore even more of the area by driving around really made the trip for me. Our main base was San Francisco, a city we have both wanted to visit for a long time. This was also my second proper visit to the USA, my first being our holiday to NYC over 5 years ago, so visiting the west coast has been on the cards for a while now. 

We spent five days in the city before heading out on our road trip, but this was enough time for it to leave quite an impression on us. I only have New York as another American city to compare to, but I have quite a bit of experience from the rest of world, and I can comfortably say that SF is unlike any other city I’ve been to before. It’s incredibly diverse. Each neighbourhood feels like a different city altogether, and they have their own charms and uniqueness about them. I’m very much of the opinion that you have put in the effort to truly discover a city, and be prepared to walk a lot. SF really does make you work for it though. You hear about how steep some of the streets are, but you really cannot appreciate it until you’re there (and have to walk them a lot!) The rewards are most certainly there to appreciate however. There are surprises and discoveries to make on every street. I don’t think I’ve been to a city that has so many different building styles in one street too, with some truly beautiful homes. It really makes most of our streets back home so dull in comparison.

After exploring SF for several days, we hired a car and headed south along the Pacific Coast Highway. Of course being in America, I was adamant about a classic American car, with a bit of spice. A Mustang, Charger, Challenger……any of these would have fit the bill. And what did we end up with? A jaguar! Yep…..we come all the way to America and end up with a classically British car. I couldn’t complain too much though, as it was a really fun car to drive, and it certainly didn’t hang about either! The coastal highway was spectacular, although I would probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I wasn’t concentrating so hard on driving on the wrong side of the road. We stayed the night at Pismo Beach, and treated ourselves to a hotel with an amazing beach view.

Death Valley was the next stop. Unfortunately we arrived at our hotel much later than planned, but we, or should I say I, still had time to enjoy the amazing quiet roads. We didn’t have to wait much longer until the moon set and we could view the Milky Way from just a mile or so from our hotel. This was even clearer than when we were in the desert in Jordan, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it clearly with my own eyes. That’s one of my bucket list items checked off.

Yosemite was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It is quite simply stunning. It was surreal to leave our camp and look up at Glacier Point ‘just’ above us, starting the trail that would eventually bring us there. I insisted we hit the trails early, just in case we had time to complete the whole 4-mile and Panorama trail back to the valley. We just made it! After 13 miles and over 3000ft of climbing we made it back to camp using our phones as a torch for the last mile or so. We only spent two full days there, but I could have happily stayed for another week.

We finished where we started, back in the city of San Francisco, this time staying at an amazing B&B right near Alamo Square. From here we discovered some of the more western and southern districts, again, each having their own unique touches.

There’s no doubt that San Francisco is definitely a city I would enjoy visiting again, and it couples perfectly with a trip to ‘nearby’ Yosemite National Park.  So many memories, these are some of my favourites….

All photos taken with a Fuji X-T1 and X-T2 with 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lenses

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My longest trip yet......Hong Kong

Anyone who has read any of my frequent posts from around the world may notice that although I travel a lot, most of my trips are only a few days in length, some might be a week, but anything longer is very rare. So if I had the choice to stay anywhere in the world for three weeks (whilst working), Hong Kong would most certainly be in my top 3. So you can imagine my surprise and excitement to learn that I had the opportunity to do just that back in July. 

I would actually stay in Macau for the first week, and then Hong Kong itself for the remaining two weeks. For HK itself, I chose to stay in Tsim Sha Tsui, mostly because of the convenient location for both places I would be working. It's also dead easy to take the MTR to most of the places in the city I like to explore. For Macau, I was actually staying in Cotai, and again due to it's proximity to work, I was staying right on the 'strip'. 

There's really only two reasons you'd ever visit Macau, as a tourist seeing some of the sights, or gambling. The area I was staying in looked vaguely similar to the strip in Las Vegas (not that I've ever been), but there's even a miniature Eiffel Tower there as well. There certainly has been no expense spared when building the huge hotel/casino complexes, and all the various malls are packed with nothing but the most expensive designer brands. As a result of this, I really wasn't a fan. It reminded me a little of Dubai, with its huge impressive buildings and similar malls, but it's all show and very little substance. Nothing feels 'real'.....if that makes sense. It's very artificial. Despite staying there for a week, it didn't take long for me to get a bit bored, having explored the surrounding areas and other hotels, just to see if they had anything remotely different to offer. They didn't. I'm sure I might have had a slightly better experience if I was in Macau itself, as there'a bit more to see, but I was very much looking forward to my first weekend when I took the ferry back to Hong Kong.

Having spent a holiday here a few years ago, and the fact that I've been here many times for work, I was initially a bit concerned about how I'd spend my evenings and the one weekend I had free. I took the decision to take both of my 35mm film cameras. The Leica would as always be loaded with Portra 400 to continue my 365 project. The Olympus was free to experiment with. With this in mind I took a few rolls out that I had never shot before, including Kodak's recently released P3200 B&W film. I also had a roll of JCH 400, and Ilford's 3200 speed film too that I hadn't got around to using at home yet. As I would mainly be free in the evening, I was really excited about picking up some Cinestill 800 to shoot at night. Hong Kong has some amazing streets from night photography, but this is something I've not photographed much before on film. I did have to try a few shops to finally find a shop that had some in stock however!

Hong Kong is really starting to feel like a second home, and it is really is a place I could seriously consider living. The only reason I'd struggle is because of the weather, and in July it's pretty much at it's worst. The heavy downpours of rain and typhoons I can live with (I am British after all!), it's the high humidity that kills me. 

These are a selection of my favourites from this three week trip.


Portra 400


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Cinestill 800T


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Kodak T-MAX P3200


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Fuji Superia Venus 800


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Ilford Delta 3200


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JCH StreetPan 400


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Kodak Tri-X 400

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In total I ended up shooting with 7 different film stocks. Portra 400 was the main work horse, but here are my thoughts on the others.......

Kodak T-Max 3200 – I loaded a roll of this ages ago, but I only took a few shots, primarily as the uncharacteristically sunny weather started in the UK before I left for this trip, and it was way too bright to shoot with most of the time. I finished the roll in HK. I’ve never shot with a film this fast before, so I was curious as to how the noise would affect the images.  I rated the film at 1600, and even at that, it was great to be able to have very usable shutter speeds in almost every situation. This, and the really quick to use spot meter function in the Olympus, made street shooting really quick and enjoyable. I love the tones of the images, and the grain is of course very noticeable, but adds that extra something to the image. This is definitely a film I will be shooting more with in the future.

JCH StreetPan 400 – This has been sat on my desk for months and months, as I bought it by chance when I was in a camera shop in Bulgaria earlier in the year. I read quite a bit of how to shoot with this film, and I stuck with a general opinion of sticking to the box speed. Even so, I used the same method of exposing the images, but I found many to be quite underexposed. This produced a very low contrast, almost muddy look to many of the photos. It’s a very different look to what I’m used to from other black and white films I’ve shot, and in a lot of examples, I really like it. I think I may need to shoot a couple more rolls to get the hang of it however.

Fuji Superia Venus 800 – This was the wild card of the trip. After entering my favourite camera shop in HK (Showa in Mong Kok), hopeful of picking up a few rolls of Cinestill 800T, only to discover they were still sold out, I couldn’t leave empty handed. I settled on this one as it was another colour ISO800 film, albeit very different from Cinestill, but something I could experiment with in more overcast weather.  I was pleasantly surprised with the results, the colours are a little less saturated than Portra, but they have a very pleasant pastel tone to them. I rated the film at 800, so I was able to shoot a lot more at night than I would with Portra 400 (which I shoot at 200), and although I was still more interested in how Cinestill would look in these conditions, I’ve found a very flexible film that I can shoot with all day.

Cinestill 800T – Within two days of arriving in Hong Kong, I was scouting around for any shop that had some in stock. Luckily I found a place not far from where I was working, so one lunchtime I ran out to pick up a few rolls. It’s certainly not the cheapest film ever (I think I paid around £10 per roll), but I was certain that it would be perfect for the neon lit streets. I’ve rarely taken any photos at night with film, but this film (as well as the Fuji Superia) have changed that. The look of the photos were better than I was hoping for, and even the distinctive haloing that this film is known for, adds more character to the images. I was worried about how to expose the photos, but I shot at 800, and as usual, exposed for the darkest parts of the frame. This seemed to work perfectly.

Ilford Delta 3200 – I cannot for the life of me remember where I bought this film, but again it was one collecting dust on my desk. As I was taking Kodak’s 3200 film, I thought it would be a good comparison to see which I preferred. If you really wanted to pixel peep the images, you could probably determine which has the finer grain etc etc. I just went on which images I preferred the look of. When comparing images of similar scenes, I found that the Kodak images just had a nicer tonal range, and handled the brighter regions better. I still like the results of the delta film, but if I had to choose, I would pick Kodak……based on just this one roll of each.

Kodak Tri-X 400 - There’s not much I need to say about this film. I’ve shot probably over 20 rolls over the past year, including many for my 365 project. I have tended to push it two stops in the past, but this time I wanted to see it shot at 400. I think I prefer the less punchy and lower contrast look to the pushed images, not that they are in any way bad at all. It’s a classic film, and still quite possibly my favourite black and white option.  

The Maldives......almost

When you hear the news that your next work trip is to the Maldives, you’d be forgiven for getting a little excited. Beautiful white sandy beaches, warm waters and picturesque views…..what could be better. But then you dig a little deeper and discover you’re actually working in Malé, the capital of the Maldives. Just google images of Malé (don’t just search ‘Male’ otherwise you’ll get images of something rather different!), and you’ll see how un-paradise-like it is. The island itself is just over 2 square miles, and over 130,000 people live there. Soon after arriving there, you can certainly see why it’s one of the most populated cities in the world.

As you can imagine, there’s a pretty hectic atmosphere on the island. There are literally mopeds everywhere. There are cars, but they struggle to make any progress in the narrow streets and melee of bikes and people.

The people there are incredibly nice and friendly, with a Caribbean-like relaxed way of life. I was even kindly offered to be picked up and dropped off at the hotel each day on the back of someone’s moped. I think that’s the first time I’ve sat on a motorbike since I was a child!

It certainly was a trip to remember, but next time I’ll have to make it out to some of the outer islands – the real Maldives.

Fuji X-T2  //  XF35mm f/2

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Oxford

For me, Oxford is city much like Bath. It's one of those places you can just walk and explore all of the beautiful little streets, full of character. 

On the day we visited it was a Bank Holiday, typically a time when the British weather is in full force, and it's cold and wet. Not this time! It couldn't have been a better day. Sadly as it was a Monday, many of the museums and other places we wanted to visit were closed, but when the weather is this good, it seems a shame to spend the day indoors.

Leica M6  //  50mm Summicron  //  Portra 400

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