London on Film

It's fair to say that I had been travelling a lot recently, with two weeks in the Caribbean and a week in Sarajevo immediately after. I was owed quite a bit of time off, so I had planned for a while to spend a few days in London. There was a time long ago when I remember saying I hated travelling to the city. But now...I'll make any excuse to make the trip down. It's one of those cities where you can just walk and walk with a camera in hand and just shoot. My plan was to visit some areas I had never really been and re-visit areas I had only been briefly.

Unfortunately the weather on my first day was horrific. It was the beginning of May and everyone was back in full winter clothing. Heavy rain in the morning really didn't get things off to the best of starts, and the rest of the day was that annoying constant drizzle that gets everything gradually wetter and wetter, and water all over your camera. Not the best conditions for a 20 year old Leica!

Still....my hotel was I'm the heart of Soho, probably my favourite neighbourhood in London. I love walking out the door and having everything you could possibly need on your doorstep. Amazing places for breakfast, quirky restaurants and great bars. They're all here. It was also a good base as I planned to visit areas east and west of Soho itself. My room was.....cosy! With literally not enough room to swing a cat! But it had everything I needed, and as I say, the room and location were perfect for me as a solo traveller.. It was also across the road from the hotel my girlfriend and I stayed at for my 30th, so it also brought back a lot of great memories.

Day two couldn't have started any better. Clear blue skies, calm (but cold) winds, it was such a contrast to the previous day. The plan for the day was to wander around neighbourhoods I'd never been, or only very briefly walked through. These included Notting Hill, a place I visited last year during the annual carnival. It's fair to say that is NOT how Notting Hill usually looks, it was weird seeing cars in the streets and the shops not covered in protective panelling. On the way there, I walked through Knightsbridge and Kensington. I got a bit carried away with trying to explore every mews I could find too. Most of them are really quaint, and looked beautifully multi-coloured. 

My last day in the city ended how it began, cold, wet and windy. I've no idea how I lucked out on the weather on my second day, but I'm so glad I had at least one day of nice weather. I really struggled to get in the mood for any kind of photography. The persistent drizzle was back and really getting to me. Luckily, it did brighten up towards the end of the day, not long before I had to catch the train home.

Despite the weather, it was still a great few days in the city. It was probably the most amount of film I've shot in such a short period too. These are just some of my favourites.....

All images either taken on the Leica M6 with a Summicron 50mm f/2 (Portra 400) or the Hasselblad 500c/m with a Carl Zeiss T* f/2.8/80mm (Portra 800)


Day 1


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Day 2


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Day 3


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My first rolls of 35mm

So the obvious question in a world of digital photography - why would you want to get into shooting film? I've read quite a few blogs of other people diving into the world of film photography, with varying reasons. Some have just discovered their father's old camera hiding away, covered in dust, and fancied trying it out. For others, that's how they started in photography and are keen to keep it going.

For me, there were many reasons. Although I didn't find any of my relatives old camera lying about, I do have some vague memories of playing with their cameras when I was young (I use the word 'playing', as when I you're about 5-6 years old, it felt more like it at the time!), so it's always been something I'd wanted to try, I guess I kept putting it off. Being born in '87, it's fair to say that I've very much grown up in the digital era. 

The main reason I wanted to start was simply to help improve my photography as a whole. Even before reading much about film photography, it goes without saying that it's a much slower process from start to finish. I've noticed on some occasions that I may have some 'bad habits' with digital photography, and like many, probably take advantage of how easy it is. From racking off dozens of images of a single scene, only to pick the best one later in Lightroom, only to find that none of them captured the moment as I wanted, to rushing the entire editing process in general in a hurry to get everything online. 

Kodak Portra 400

Kodak Portra 400

The big decision I had next was....which camera?! Being completely new to film, I had very little knowledge on how the cameras differed, and what would be good as a beginner. It's made harder by the fact that it would have to be second hand, and my first 'new' film camera could have well been manufactured over 20 years ago! But essentially, film cameras are just fancy light boxes, which is why they don't age, and can perform just as well today as they did when they were first built. That made the choice harder, as why would one be worth a lot more than another? (apart from some being rather rare and collectors items). After many many hours of reading, I eventually settled on an Olympus, specifically the OM-4 Ti. The OM series had a very good reputation back in the day, and the OM-4 was the last of the 'pro' range of 35mm SLRs Olympus made. I was advised to go for a 'Ti' if I could, as this fixed a number of electrical gremlins over the standard OM-4. 

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Kodak Portra 400

Kodak Portra 400

I'm not the biggest fan of eBay, but there are so many cameras available there, that it's almost a no brainer, unless you're lucky enough to find a high street camera shop with a good selection of film cameras (easier said than done!). I found a really nice OM-4 Ti on eBay that came with the 'best' 50mm 1.4 lenses you could get. (apparently Olympus made many versions of the 500 1.4, and ones with a serial number over 1,100,000 are widely considered to be the one to get). The camera itself feels great to handle, and I instantly fell in love with the mechanical nature of everything. As I've used Fuji's mirrorless cameras for years, it was so satisfying to go back to the SLR ways, with a conventional viewfinder as apossed to the EVF that I've been so accustomed to.

Kodak Portra 400

Kodak Portra 400

Shooting on film is a completely different experience. I'd spend a lot more time thinking about the photo, rather than taking a series of photos with my digital camera, reviewing them, and then fiddling with the settings and/or often then recomposing. With film, you have to slow down and really think about things before pressing the shutter. We take it for granted how quick and easy it is to see the actual photograph within seconds of taking it with digital. With film, you really have to think. Especially when a small part of you is acutely aware that every time you press that shutter, it costs money.

On the subject of money, let it be said.....film photography is not cheap! I was amazed at how much some rolls can cost. 36 exposures for over £10 in some cases. 36 pence might not sound like a lot, but lets say there's one scene you really like and take a dozen images.... On digital, 12 images is nothing. On film, not only is that a third of your roll gone, but that scene cost you over £4! .....and we haven't even started on developing/scanning costs yet!

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Luckily there's a reputable shop in town that offers developing and scanning. They charge around £16 to develop a roll of 35mm (36 exp) and scan the images to disc. That works out at around 70 pence per photo, including the average price of a roll of film. 

The first roll I shot was Kodak's Colour Plus 200. A relatively cheap roll of film,  3 rolls (36 exp) coming in at just over £10. I didn't fancy using one of the 'nicer' rolls, just in case I made a complete mess of loading it, or something else went wrong and everything was lost. After finishing that roll, my confidence was higher and I loaded the legendary Portra 400. This has to be one of the most popular film stocks around, and when looking at many images from some amazing photographers, it's easy to see why. 

Kodak Colour Plus 200

Kodak Colour Plus 200

The OM-4 has a built in light meter, and for most 'easy' scenes I went with that. For more complex lighting situations (strong sunlight, back lighting etc) I tried to expose for the shadows, but this is still something I need to get the hang of, and learn how film behaves. Film is very forgiving when overexposed, and in many cases, you can shoot +4 stops (and higher) without any issues, as long as you expose for the shadows. Shooting scenes with strong lighting and shadows is still a challenge, but I'm learning to use the Olympus's fantastic spot metering tool. Simply select an area, click the spot button, and it will meter for that. Nothing revolutionary there I know, but with the OM-4, you can select multiple spot metering points. So theoretically, you could select a spot in the shadows, the camera will set the shutter speed appropriately, then select another area you want to expose for, and the camera will average those two spots, select another, and that will be in the average shutter speed too.....and so on.

There's still a lot to learn, but these are my first photographs ever on film.....
 

Portra 400

Colour Plus 200

The early bird.....

Our last day in the city got off to a promising start. Our room faced east, so I could see there was potential for a nice sunrise. Usual habits kicked in.....freshen up, get dressed, grab camera gear, out!

After being treated to a really nice sunrise over the houses of parliament, I headed into the city to take advantage of the quiet streets, and when I say quiet...I mean dead! Walking around during golden hour in such a normally busy city such as London was quiet surreal. I don't normally have the best of luck with sunrise photography, or getting up early in general to take photos! Thankfully this time it paid off!

The rest of the day was spent wandering around areas we had never been before, and enjoying the beautiful weather to cap off a great stay in London. 

Notting Hill Carnival

I must admit when I planned our bank holiday in London, I had no idea that the carnival was on the same weekend. It's never been something I had ever thought of making the trip to London just to visit, but as we were here, it would seem rude not to visit one of the world's most renowned street parties! 

If there is one tip I can pass on to those thinking of making the trip there......go early!!

Not only was it really surreal to walk around all the completely closed streets, normally filled with cars and traffic, but we encountered very little crowds or queues on the underground. By the time we left, the crowds pouring out of the underground stations was unbelievable. Trust me, go early and make a whole day of it - there's a lot more going on than you might think.

If you ever needed a camera to capture the smells and sounds of an event, then this would be it! There were barbecues and street food everywhere. I'm glad we skipped breakfast so we could make the most of just a tiny part of it. There were almost as many speaker systems as barbecues too. Loud, and smelling amazing. Those would be my initial observations as a first timer!

We visited on the Sunday, supposedly the 'quieter and calmer' of the three days. Despite this, the party atmosphere was amazing, there was such a positive energy and feel about the place.

Something you have to feel for yourself.