February 11th, 2012

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Experiments: Ilford P4 surveillance film

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Recently I bought a job lot of film from someone on a well known auction site and among the different brands of film was some that I have never heard of, Ilford P4 surveillance. A little research pointed to it being used in traffic cameras and for surveillance (doh!) work. The film I received had been individually loaded into cassettes from a bulk roll, the empty box of which was included for me to read more information. I don’t know if the film I received was from the empty box because the expiry date on the box was 2010 but after processing the first two test rolls I noticed that one of the layers of film above the emulsion had come away in patches which is why these scans look uneven. There are also scratches across the film which points to grit in the felt trap of the cassette. I did rattle these shots off as a test so I don’t mind too much and I’m thrilled with the look of this film so it’s okay.

The thing that amazes me the most is the dynamic range this film is able to capture. I deliberately used it in situations where I know other films would struggle which is strongly backlit shots. The contrast is flatter than ‘normal’ black & white films and for an ISO400 film the grain is quite pronounced but I do like it. I’ve got lots more of this film to use for testing so more images will follow. These shots were made with my very first SLR camera that I bought in 1987 and although I probably haven’t used it in maybe 15 years the battery for the light meter still has power in it and I enjoyed using this camera more now than I ever did. Apart from the light meter the camera is completely mechanical and that’s partly why I love it so much. It will function without a battery and is totally manual – which roughly translated means you need to know what you’re doing because there’s no ‘P for Professional mode’ to help you.

[Tech info:] Nikon FM2 with 50mm/f1.4 lens loaded with Ilford P4 surveillance film. Processed in Kodak HC110 developer (dilution B 1:31) for 10mins at 20C.

old style bicycle with brooks saddle

Nice bike. I love the dated look of this shot.

brooks leather saddle

Brooks saddle.

cyclists in oxford

Broad street cyclists.

pedestrians walking on the road

Turl street.

the eagle and child pub in oxford

This pub was a favourite of JRR Tolkien and his pals.

a man rim lit by the sun

This image is a great example of the incredible dynamic range of this film. This man is walking directly towards a bright setting sun. The contrast in the scene was so high that all I could see was a silhouette but on film you can clearly see his rucksack and there's still plenty of detail in the sky too.

a long shadow behind a man walking towards the sun

Long shadow.

Another great example of a backlit subject by the setting sun. All I saw was a silhouette through my viewfinder.


Back stage: Cabaret, Oxford

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to have permission to do some back stage photography of a theatre performance of Cabaret at the O’Reilly Theatre, Oxford which was being put on by Oxford University students. It was the opening night so obviously tension was high. I was trying to be as low key as possible while everyone checked and double checked things and last minute rehearsals took place. I found the lighting in the theatre a bit too low for any decent photography so I I ended up setting up at the bottom of a rear stair well which not only seemed to be the place with the most amount of light but I was also out of the way of the crew that were dashing back and forth.

The problem I found was convincing the actors to spare a few seconds to be photographed. Understandably they had more important things on their minds so I didn’t get as much photography done as I had hoped. After a slow start luck was on my side. Just over an hour before the start it seemed like the entire cast had disappeared to grab a bite to eat and get into costume, all of them apart from Alice, the lead actress who was busy practicing on stage. I asked if she could spare a little time for photography and thankfully she was more than happy to. What struck me was how calm and composed she was considering it was the opening the night and we were so close to curtain up. It was so easy (and a lot of fun) to photograph Alice that I ended up finishing a roll of film in a matter of minutes. A little later I did get some shots of a few of the other cast members but I haven’t processed that film yet.

And now the bad news… As you can see the quality of these images is far from great, that’s because the film I used is a very high speed film for low-light photography and one of the things you should never do with high speed film is pass it through an x-ray scanner (the kinds you find at airports). It just so happens that a good friend of mine brought be back a few rolls of this film a few weeks ago from New York (it’s a lot more expensive if you buy it here) and I didn’t think to warn him about getting the film hand inspected at the airport. Lesson learnt – always test new film batches before using them on a live shoot.

So, apologies for the low quality images, no one is more disappointed than I am but sometimes these things happen. I do still very much like the images especially because of the location they were made in. The roll of film I used for the other shots was a different type so it won’t suffer from any x-ray damage. I just need to develop it properly without any problems.

Back stage photography is something I’m interested in doing more of so if you know of any productions in Oxford that would be interesting to photograph please let me know.

[Tech info:] Mamiya RZ67 with 110mm/f2.8 lens loaded with Ilford Delta 3200 (rated at ISO1600) processed in Ilford DD-X for 9mins, 20c.

Alice, the lead actress in Cabaret.

Shot 2 on the stairs.