The last couple of weeks have certainly been busy. I had a stint at work from Mon – Thurs, then left early to catch a plane with Carolin up to Cairns, to attend the Annual Scientific Meeting of the College of Intensive Care Medicine. The ASM dinner on Saturday night was also my graduation as a Consultant. We both had a superb weekend, including a bit of sightseeing on Sunday afternoon. I took the Fujifilm with us and finally reached the conclusion that any apparent deficiencies rested entirely with the photographer, not the camera and I cast aside my desire to purchase one of the Canon full-frame cameras.
We flew home Monday and continued packing up the house ahead of completion of our purchase on Tuesday. We are now in our new home and are over the moon to finally be owner-occupiers again. The rest of the week was taken up with packing and moving, as well as a two day echocardiography course for me and a night shift on Friday.Somehow, we have got it all done and are very happy in the new house. My fire brigade transfer is going through, so I am currently inactive awaiting permission to start turning out with the new brigade.
I have fond memories of steam locomotives from my childhood. As I wrote on a previous blog many years ago, I firmly believe the success of Thomas the Tank Engine and the persistent allure of steam rests in the fact that a small child could easily believe the engine is alive and breathing, as it stands puffing at the station.
Whilst never a particular train-spotter, I do maintain an interest in the history of railways. They played a key role in so many aspects of industrial history throughout the world, reaching out like runners to propagate civilisation in previous rural areas such as “Metroland” in the UK and the western United States.
As a youngster, various North West London model engineering societies maintained small tracks and working, small scale, ride-on steam locomotives. They operated on different Sundays and a trip to either the Ickenham, Harlington or Eastcote ‘Sunday’ trains, was a special treat. My first ride on a full-sized, heritage steam-hauled train was at the West Somerset Railway in Minehead, with Granddad and Lisa.
When my children were little, I took them on various steam excursions in the UK, such as the Mid-Norfolk Railway, the Bure Valley Railway, Swanage Railway and similar. In Australia, we have had several trips on Puffing Billy. Somehow though, I managed to overlook the presence of a fine railway museum here in Melbourne which does not have live steam, but does have a fascinating array of steam locomotives and rolling stock from Victorian Railways over the years.
The museum is in Newport, near North Williamstown Station. It is not far from the Newport works that once built locomotives for Victorian Railways. Entry is inexpensive and there is great access around the exhibits and into locomotive cabs. A program is underway to get more of the locos under cover as some are showing signs of exposure to the elements day-in, day-out.
I enjoy museums, but whenever I visit ‘industrial’ type museums, I am struck with a degree of melancholy when I contemplate the massive industries and skill base that once existed, either in Australia or the UK, which has been lost with the passing of time. We still require manufacturing and once had the ability. Nowadays, so much is lost, as is the political will to invest in and support it. Standing in a beautifully restored sleeper carriage from the “Overlander” steam-hauled Melbourne to Adelaide service, I could only wonder at its opulence and the attention to detail. This was from a time when governments of any persuasion seemed to understand that governments were required to take the financial hit of providing some infrastructure in order to advance the country. The Victorian Railway network was quite something in its prime, but now it is almost a boutique service outside of Melbourne and many V-line rail services are actually buses.
Time rolls on of course and things change. The presence of two early electric locomotives from the 1920s struck me as interesting, given the march towards electric propulsion of everything in this day and age. Railways were obviously early users of electric infrastructure and I wonder if we can learn something from them in other areas of transportation?
I enjoyed the opportunity to take some photographs as I went around, with both the Fujifilm and the Nikon film camera. As I left I thought once again that I really must get on the Indian Pacific sometime, as one of the planet’s epic train journeys.
(Edit 20/4/2020): Another image that fell victim to my Flickr cleanout…..
Carolin, Joshua and I went down to Canadian Bay a few weeks ago and watched the sunset over Port Phillip Bay.
The sun is setting on our time living Mount Eliza, Victoria, after 8 1/2 years renting in the same place. The children have lived here over half their lives and they were still quite little when we moved in, after a year in Frankston South. Although it was not our house, it has been a lovely home and our landlords have been superb.
We are not moving far from here, but we are excited at the next step, in our own home, in a beautiful village. Exciting times.
Continuing the saga of my indecision around cameras, I have started to experiment with some camera profiles that I bought online. They attempt to replicate the colour science of other cameras. This image, taken with my Fujifilm, has a colour profile of a Canon EOS 1DS mk3. Allegedly. I wouldn’t know how to test it, but I just see it as a palette of options to help me try to recreate the images as I saw it on the day.
I’ll leave you with my favourite sunset quote:
“I lay awake all night wondering where the sun had gone, then it dawned on me”.
I do struggle to commit to this blog on any kind of regular basis, despite a great enthusiasm for the idea. Perhaps it is the ongoing battle to decide whether I have anything interesting to say…..
Looking at my saved drafts, I obviously intended to create a series of posts about our efforts to rejuvenate the garden of the rental property we are in. We had considerable success with native plantings in the bed area of the garden, but the lawn is an ongoing battle. We will have to pass that on to the next tenants because we have finally purchased our own house here in Australia and will be moving on soon. We are excited about this new chapter in our lives and the beautiful house we will be living in. There will be a few projects there, including hopefully water tanks and solar, as well as a recreation room downstairs.
Many other things have changed for us since the last post. I am now an active, operational volunteer firefighter and a Consultant in Critical Care Medicine in my day job as well as an aeromedical retrieval physician.
Having scrapped the garden series of posts, my last post talks about Samuel and I exploring film photography. Samuel’s interest is more in the line of video these days, leaving me exploring my photography. I have continued to explore analogue photography and am in awe of the medium and the challenges and thought behind it. I have even purchased developing equipment with a view to developing my own black and white film at some point over winter.
As I said at the end of the last post, film had given me my mojo back. I now spend more time on photography, but take fewer photographs. I look in more detail at what is before me as I contemplate how to photograph it. I am more in tune with colours and seeing what is there. I use digital far more than I use film, but I have also significantly reduced my iPhone camera use.
Sitting at my desk here, I have before me four cameras. It seems excessive, but it has been an evolution. The first is my Canon EOS600D. I have barely used it since October, when I purchased a Fujifilm XE-3. My history of Canon goes back to early 2006 when I purchased a 350D, with an 18 – 55mm kit lens and a 70 – 210mm telephoto zoom. This camera lasted me the best part of ten years and some of the images I took with it are the most important to me that I have ever taken. There are tens of thousands, so it is hard to pick a favourite. Here are two.
There are some important lessons from these images. I had not had the Canon very long. My photographic journey was still in its infancy. I had some understanding of ISO, shutter speed, aperture etc., but little experience. I had no real understanding of RAW photography, other than a vague notion that it was highly detailed and would allow greater editing flexibility. My composition skills were still random, rather than considered. I shot these images in RAW and JPEG. Last year, having learnt more about post-processing in the intervening period, I ‘developed’ them. The lessons are that sometimes the image is right without all the preparation. The image is made by the moment and the subject as much as the photographer. Expensive equipment is not necessarily essential.
Sadly, the 600D has never quite lived up to the 350. In theory, it should be just a more advanced version, but there is something lacking in sharpness and atmosphere from the photographs. Perhaps it is just me, because Samuel manages to get some amazing images at different times from it. I suspect that is his superior artistic talent.
I spent quite a period of time last year researching cameras and systems as I felt it was time for an upgrade. I was very keen to get a full frame digital camera, but similarly I wanted to move to a more practical and portable high-quality camera as the size of my Canon had become a barrier to taking it with me on various excursions. As if to prove that too much choice can become a hindrance, I did all this research and then made the wrong decision for me. I must emphasise “for me”. Your mileage may vary and there is no doubt that the Fujifilm XE-3 that I opted for is an excellent camera.
It has many qualities. It is a nice, compact size. Battery life is good. The control system on top and the aperture ring on the lens is all I really need as the only settings I tend to access are ISO, aperture and now exposure compensation. Shutter speed is on auto. It fits in my pocket and I certainly have it with me much more than I ever had the 600D. Mirrorless facilitates more certainty about the eventual exposure.
But…. it is APS-C and although there is good objective evidence that the crop sensor/full frame debate is a bit meaningless, I still have full frame envy. The electronic viewfinder is pretty good but not quite the same as an optical viewfinder. This is something I need to just accept as I think mirrorless is the future. It has focus zoom which can be useful, although invariably gets activated by mistake just when I am checking another aspect of composition. I occasionally use the screen on the back which is excellent, but fixed.
I have taken quite a number of images with it that I am extremely happy with, but sadly there are also many that are just not quite right. Whilst I am usually quick to blame myself, I have come to the conclusion that something about either the sensor or the software and algorithms that Fujifilm use are just not to my taste. Pages have been written online about the difference between the Fujifilm sensor and other manufacturers, but I do not begin to understand any of it. For me it simply seems as though the images are in some way too vivid, too saturated or somehow CGId. This is a particular issue in bright light conditions with blue skies. A bit of work in Lightroom can help, but overall I am frustrated. Is it enough for me to sell it? No, probably not. As an entry level Fujifilm, it is unlikely to attract much value and I have an adaptor that allows me to use my Minolta lenses on it. With these lenses, I can often create images that I am much more satisfied with, than when I use the 18 or 27mm Fujifilm lenses. So, if I do make a further purchase, I will keep the body and shoot only with Minolta lenses on it.
The next camera along is a Minolta XG-M. It is currently loaded with an AGFA ISO100 black and white film. I have temporarily lent both Minolta lenses to a friend to use on his XT20, so the film is on 16 exposures. 20 to go. I have now shot a number of films with this camera, most recently some Kodak E100 slide film, a medium that I had never shot before. Sadly, the prism of the Minolta stuck up two-thirds of the way through that film and in pursuit of fixing it, I had to sacrifice the last 12, unexposed images. I was blown away by the clarity of the images that came from that E100 slide film. There is a high chance I may never shoot another colour emulsion after I use up the ones I have in my drawer. Whether that eventuates will depend upon the results with Fujifilm Provia and some Kodak Ektar 100 colour negative film.
I use a 50mm MD Rokkor lens and a 28mm MD Rokkor lens on the Minolta and I love both of them.
The final camera on the desk is a Nikon FE with a 50mm lens. It currently has a roll of Fujifilm Provia loaded. This is the first film I am exposing with the Nikon, so no images to share just yet.
Of course, there is another camera in my pocket, the iPhone 8 Plus. Whilst I was regularly able to get images I quite liked with my 6 Plus (see the photograph of MFB Station 2 in this post), I rarely am with my 8 Plus. In fairness, the images don’t look too bad on the iPad or iPhone, but as soon as I look at them on my 5K 28″ iMac, they appear so artificial and digital they are unpleasant. That has dramatically reduced any desire to take photographs with it.
So, I suspect in the coming few months there will be another camera purchase in pursuit of a suitable replacement for my much-missed EOS350D. I love Canon colour. I think the Nikon Z6 is probably a better entry level full frame mirrorless than the Canon R. The Canon RP may be enough for me, given how much I liked the entry level 350D. I spend far too much time trawling Flickr trying to evaluate those cameras, but that’s no guarantee I will like my results. Tricky.
Before the summer hiatus on the blog, I posted an article about The Shed That Granddad Built and included a photograph of the shed, taken with an old Sony Cybershot camera in the early 2000s. My recollections of that camera are almost entirely negative, but whilst preparing the image for posting I was pleasantly surprised that with some work on the saturation, the image was actually very usable. Around the time of that post, I was actually in a bit of a low where my photography was concerned. I have discussed my limitations as a photographer before.
I was beginning to feel as though digital photography, particularly with the advent of smartphones, instagram and so on, had become a bit of a millstone. A day trip that once may have resulted in two or three shots on a 24 exposure film can now generate literally hundreds of shots. I cannot speak for others, but my approach to digital images is to review, delete as many as possible to ensure a well curated collection remains and to then process and ‘develop’ them in Lightroom. Sometimes, one cannot be certain what to delete until some processing has taken place. It does not take much to fall behind and all of a sudden, there are several hundred photographs waiting to be reviewed and edited. Getting the mojo up to go through those can be a problem. There was a good article on The Conversation a few years ago on this subject.
I had become quite lazy with my DSLR and taken to using my iPhone. Whilst the images from the DSLR are undoubtedly better and the camera offers more flexibility, it is cumbersome to carry around. The iPhone is always there and means photo-opportunities that would otherwise be missed are captured. On the flip side, my iPhone 6 Plus takes great snapshots but there is often a sense of regret in Lightroom that I had not used the DSLR for a shot that is borderline in terms of detail, noise or low-light exposure. Over Christmas, a colleague from work lent me a Canon 50mm prime lens, which was a new experience for me as I have always used zoom lenses. My EOS 600D has an APS-C sensor, which means the 50mm is actually an 80mm equivalent lens. Additionally, the lens also had a much bigger aperture than I have used, at f1.7, meaning I had to be much more precise with my focal points when doing portraits.
Although such a lens, at 80mm equivalent, is much more narrow angle than I am interested in, something about using a higher quality lens compared to my kit lens and trying something else, stimulated a new line to pursue with photography and I set about actively looking at getting either a new camera, some prime lenses or both. I started to investigate mirrorless and full-frame, but was deterred somewhat by the cost.
Over the past couple of years, I had been contemplating purchasing an old film SLR camera as a way of doing something different with my photography. The appeal was the idea of photographing knowing the capacity to photograph on a given occasion was finite. 24 or 36 shots. The challenge was to see whether I could take what I have learnt about composition and exposure over the years and achieve satisfactory results on film, without knowing instantly whether I had succeeded or not. Recently I had been watching a few adverts on Gumtree or eBay and had almost taken the plunge, when I heard about a local retailer of old cameras and lenses. Samuel was looking at a new project for school and so between us we resolved to make exploring film our new project.
Our first camera was a Minolta XG1. The chap in the shop recommended it as a good entry-level SLR, particularly combined with a Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens. Being a 35mm negative SLR, the 50mm is 50mm. Equipped with the included roll of Kodak ColourPlus film, we set off. I had been thinking about a Canon AE-1, which gets a lot of press, but it was quite pleasing to get a Minolta, for my first SLR, a relatively modern one at the time, was a Minolta 404si. For me, it was a pleasing return to a different process. For Samuel, raised on digital as he has been, it was a voyage of discovery. Working out how the image was recorded, focusing manually, considering every aspect of the exposure as well as the composition and evaluating in advance whether the shot was worth it, or whether a better option lay ahead. It was great to watch and to share that experience with him. For my part, I found it quite liberating to give such consideration to each exposure and then have the suspense of waiting until the whole film was exposed and developed to see the result. I must confess, we did not take an entirely luddite approach to things. We used our iPhones as light metres and on occasions, the Canon DSLR to help metre the shots, but as the Minolta has less flexibility (the ISO is what the film is, the shutter speed does not go faster than 1/1000) it was down to the final choice of parameters we selected, rather than an algorithm. The most rewarding thing was perhaps the way it made us seek out opportunities. For both of us, our photography had become a sense of “shoot that in case it is good”, rather than “that looks great like that, the light is here, this would be an interesting exposure, let’s do it”. I think it might be fair to say that shooting film and contemplating whether to take a shot actually allowed us to see things in more detail, or with more consideration, than if we had randomly photographed with our phones or the Canon.
We spent a day together travelling clockwise around Port Phillip Bay, using the Sorrento to Queenscliff ferry to cross the heads, exploring the Bellarine Peninsula and then Wiliamstown before coming home. Along the way, we expended much of the first film and excitedly took it to developers the next day. This was interesting in itself, because along with our joy at seeing what we had captured, came the slightly bitter sense of failure that was familiar to film-users for decades. Sadly, the Minolta had a light-leak or a shutter fault and so a number of negatives had been spoilt. Nevertheless, we managed to crop and balance a few and came out with a collection we were happy with. We returned the Minolta and came away with an alternative model and another roll of film. I was so enthused with the concept, that I also purchased a 28mm lens. Also manual everything. Samuel was so captivated that he took my cousin up on the loan of a large-format, bellows camera and we are sourcing negatives for it currently. That will be a whole other project.
The images from the Minolta have a tone and grain that make them quite alluring, although perhaps more grain than I recall from an ISO200 film. A well metered and exposed negative has phenomenal dynamic range. They cannot hope to compare to a modern full-frame digital in terms of sharpness, colour and flexibility to edit, but I like them. Shooting film and digital will complement each other nicely and I will buy that full-frame DSLR/Mirrorless within the next couple of years. Digital photography has, after all, allowed me to develop as a photographer via multiple shots and freedom to experiment without concern about the cost of developing and printing. It’s nice to have my mojo back.
When I came up with the idea to blog again, I sketched out a plan for a podcast and companion blog that would allow me to fulfil my ambition to create and publish a podcast. I simply needed to finish my exams at work, then I would have time. As it transpired, when the exams were done I found the last thing I wanted to do was spend more time afore a computer, working on nearly anything. It was time for the outside world, some old hobbies and some new and certainly nothing that would prompt me to spend anymore time sat at the computer. So I shelved it. I’ve kept the notes, so who knows, perhaps the podcast will happen at some point. Meanwhile, I’ll write from time to time.
The Australian summer has not been a quiet time though and I have really enjoyed a number of things. I have aspired to make life a little simpler and am pleased to reflect that I have been successful. Posts on these matters will follow. As well as completing my Specialist Training at work, I scratched an itch that had been present for almost as long as I can remember and joined the fire brigade as a volunteer firefighter. I am now coming towards the end of my recruit training and hope to be operational within the next four to six weeks. Being part of the team certainly beats walking past most evenings
My maternal grandfather, Denis, was a tremendous craftsman, although he had little in the way of formal training. As I write this, it occurs to me to wonder how he acquired his skills because for a large part of his 83 years, there was no internet or YouTube to learn from. When computers and the internet did emerge, he wanted no part of them.
His particular skills were in carpentry and woodwork, although he was capable of building an entire house, except for gas installation and electrical wiring. When my parents brought their home, which required significant renovation at the time, Granddad built a large shed at the back of the garden. I believe this was around 1974.
The shed stood for decades. It may still be there, but a Google Earth view is not clear enough for me to tell. It spanned the two-thirds of the width of the back garden, had a wood store in the roof with a hatch through which planks could be fed and two windows that could be propped open. Inside was a large work bench and all the other junk a family accumulates over time. Dad had run an electric supply up to it, so it had lightning and power. Both Dad & Granddad had overlooked a source of heating though, so it could be quite chilly in the winter.
I used to enjoy pottering up in the shed, somehow thinking I was engaging in woodwork or other construction activities, but in reality simply fiddling about with tools I did not understand whilst trying to make things, despite not being entirely sure what I was trying to make. I credit my passion for sheds to the many hours I spent there.
In my teens, I had an old radio, that had belonged to Great Aunt Edith, which was in perfect condition. I would contentedly listen to the radio whilst drinking tea and achieving not much else.
Sometime in the third decade of the shed’s existence, the side of the shed that contained the door developed rot, due to pooling water and the frame was in danger of giving out each time the door was opened. Undaunted by a singular lack of ability in the area of construction and unaware, at that time, that Granddad mixed concrete that will resist nuclear explosion*, I set about effecting a repair. I decided to cut out the entire rotten section, slide in a new piece which could be secured with various splints and screws to the existing frame, then drill the new piece into the armageddon-proof concrete and paint it. Simples.
I purchased the required wood, cut it to size, extracted the rotten section and pushed in the new one. So far, so good. Securing the new section to the frame would be similarly uncomplicated. I paused for a cup of tea, delighted with my progress and surprised that thusfar, my usual DIY misadventures had not shown up to hamper me.
It was at this point that inspiration struck me. The replacement section would surely benefit from a nice metal plate covering it, in order to protect the wood from chips as bicycles, lawn mowers and so on were pushed in and out of the shed. We were in the process of dumping and old metal filing cabinet that no longer had opening drawers, so I took a hack saw to part of it and fashioned a three sided plate to fit around the section of wood under the door. I elected to drill through this with a metalwork drill bit, through the wood with a woodwork drill bit and finally into the concrete to site plugs and masonry screws to secure the frame, via the new section, into the base. This is where the wheels fell off. Drilling the metal and wood was fine. Drilling the masonry cost me three masonry drill bits and a trip to the DIY shop to buy new bits, before there were holes sufficient to admit the plugs and screws. This inconvenience led to much muttering and cursing on my part, but was soon forgotten once I had put the section in place, proudly bonded to the end-of-the-world resisting concrete, secured it to the frame and painted both the wood and, later, the metal. It looked as good as new. Later, on a visit to the UK, the great man himself, Granddad-Who-Built-The-Shed, surveyed it and gave a seal of approval.
Granddad was responsible for a number of sheds in the family and I helped him to build at least one of them, at Roy’s house. I suspect this one is probably not still standing. Mostly because we built it on plinths of paving slabs, as Roy had not got the base quite ready. From memory, there were six plinths. One at each corner and one each in the middle of the longest sides. The last I knew, when Roy sold the house some years ago, and many years after Granddad and I erected the shed, the base had still not quite been laid.
*I wish I could remember the ratios of cement powder to sand and ballast that Granddad used, but despite him telling me many times, I cannot. Suffice to say that when a builder saw him mixing cement once, he observed that he would never be able to employ Granddad because the cement bill would be too much for the business to bear.
Here is a film I made earlier this year. Whilst visiting family, I took my teenage son to the park he used to visit as a youngster. He wanted to have a play on the climbing frames he remembered so well.
It was a spring day, the sun was shining, but still low in the sky given the time of year. The light it cast across the park was quite special.
I had recently downloaded Filmic on to my iPhone 6 Plus and so, quite spontaneously, Joshua and I decided to shoot a bunch of scenes for a film. We lacked a particular concept, but as I filmed and then edited, thoroughly enjoying the control that Filmic offers, a short movie emerged that we think shows the wistful nostalgia of a teenage boy enjoying the climbing frame, the park and the trees, but knowing that a time of great change is approaching.
We hope you enjoy the movie and look forward to any comments you might have.
Back in July 2016, we went whale watching during a circumnavigation of Phillip Island. We were fortunate to see a Southern Right Whale on our excursion, as well as numerous dolphins. It really was breathtaking to see these wonderful creatures close to and I look forward to repeating the trip next year.
This photo means a lot to me. I took it from the back door of our home in Attleborough, Norfolk, in May 2009. I remember the morning very clearly. It was a beautiful spring day.
Our home was a small, one and a half bedroom, starter home. We moved there in 2003 with Samuel, Joshua was born the following year, then we left in 2010 when we migrated to Australia. The house was so tiny but very cozy and we were extremely happy there. We shared the home with Micky, the collie in the foreground who was the most wonderful and devoted pet for thirteen years. Gina, just in front of him, was an independently minded cat that we had as a kitten. We re-homed her before we left because the area of Australia that we now reside in has a ban on cats being outside. It would have been intolerable for her to be a house cat, not to mention completely confined during quarantine so sadly we had to leave her. Micky survived his flight and 30-day quarantine, and lived the last five years of his life here in Australia, enjoying trips to the beach and local walks. He was truly a wonderful dog.
The Yukka tree in the pot and the Eucalyptus behind the play house were my wife’s way of having bits of Australia in her British life. The Eucalypt was free but later cost me money to have cut down when it grew taller than the house and somewhat more fragile. The climbing frame, playhouse and sandpit (under cover) kept the children entertained for many years and in some ways I still miss them. We did dismantle the climbing frame and transport it with us, but it never went back together as intended, stood in our garden for year unsafe to be used and has finally been dispatched.
The house is still ours. When we check it on return visits, we wonder how we managed in such a tiny place, but equally part of me hankers for the simplicity of a small house and a more minimalist lifestyle, the like of which is probably not possible with teenagers.