London Diaries 7 – Wednesday 13th February 2019: Instax and Artefacts

Photography is like an addiction. Generally, I manage to get out once or twice a week to shoot street photos, and that seems to feed my habit enough. But occasionally, circumstances prevent me from managing to get into Central London. Which would be fine if I lived in a remotely photogenic area that I could grab half an hour or so to take photographs around here and there, but I don’t. It’s not pretty enough to be typically “British”, nor gritty enough to be interesting – just mundane suburbia.

Whenever these forced hiatuses from street photography occur, I tend to get withdrawal symptoms after about seven days. And then something dangerous happens: I start “researching” things. This is the nicest way to describe my habit of becoming intensely interested in something new, and this time, that “something new” was medium format cameras and 120 film.

When I was considering buying the Fujifilm X100F for my street photography, I researched hard… to the point that when I actually bought one, I’d watched so many hours of YouTube videos about them, I felt like I’d owned one for years. I seem to be going the same way with the Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, my desired medium format camera. This interest has stemmed from my increasing love of Japanese analogue portrait photography, which generally has a distinctive soft, bright aesthetic achieved by using Kodak Portra 400 film. The stylings and compositions are thoughtfully lit, calm, dreamy and tranquil… and I REALLY want to create portrait photographs which are that beautiful. That’s the dream. But that’s for a different blog.

Today was all about getting back onto the streets with the X100F after my ten day break. I’d recently purchased an extra pack of Instax Square film for the Fujifilm Instax SQ6 camera, so I had 12 shots to play with. The light was terrible and Wednesdays are always pretty quiet in Central London, but at least we’d escaped suburbia. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time for post-processing this week, so I shot JPEG only, and did my editing on the iPad with VSCO X. Here’s the story of today’s shoot:


I shot with a soundtrack today, which is a new thing for me.

Instax Square

I used 11 out of my 12 Instax shots around Soho at the beginning of the day. I love how unpredictable Instax film is. I have the Instax Share SP-2 printer that uses Instax mini film, which can be wirelessly synced with the Fujifilm X100F to produce prints on the go, but it’s not the same as using an Instant camera. Bonus points to the Huawei P20 Pro this week, for having a neat little scan feature in the camera that makes it really easy to make digital copies of my Instax photos for uploading online.


Soho

We initially took the Tube to Oxford Circus station, and decided to wander aimlessly through Soho along streets that were less familiar to us. In preparation for the creation of Curious magazine, I’ve been purchasing a few independent magazines recently to get ideas and inspiration regarding potential layouts, so I was really pleased to find a newsagent that stocked a whole host of them, and bought a couple more (“Huck” and “Hungry Eye”, in case anybody’s interested). I also got some really good Korean Fried Chicken from the @bapfoods food stall in Rupert Street, which was super yummy.


Chinatown

There were even more lanterns strung across the streets of Chinatown than usual after the recent Lunar New Year, but down at ground level the streets were pretty empty. I’ve noticed that Wednesdays are often like this during the daytime in London. We walked our standard one-lap “circuit” of the main streets, found a man cleaning windows who seemed very happy to have his photograph taken whilst he worked, and then decided to try our luck elsewhere.

Bonus photograph of PJ, because it’d be rude not to take such an opportunistic photograph next to a sign like that.


British Museum

“How did they end up in the British Museum?” I hear you cry. Actually, I’m pretty sure you’re not all that bothered, but I’m going to tell you anyway. We’ve been researching potential new street photography locations around London, and had read about Exmouth Market, which is held every Friday and Saturday. Unusually for us, our next street shot falls on a Saturday, so we thought we’d go and scout out the area in advance whilst we were within walking distance today. The route there took us past the British Museum, and it was pretty cold outside, so it seemed sensible to pop inside for a bit. We’ve taken some interesting shots in the past inside the V&A Museum, and were curious what the light was like inside the British Museum. Not great, was the answer. But there were some interesting artefacts, so it was a good opportunity to take some photographs anyway.


Tottenham Court Road to Barbican

So, all in all, it was quite a long walk. And once we arrived at the Exmouth Market location, neither of us were taken enough with it to want to bother coming back on Saturday. However, as well as our detour into the British Museum, we actually passed through a fair amount of photo-worthy locations en route. I particularly liked the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, with its brutalist concrete facade. I also manage to take my first blossom photographs of 2019, which was surprising given how cold it has been recently.

Given my new-found interest in 120 film, imagine my delight when we stumbled across a camera film wholesaler in Mount Pleasant (I say stumbled “across”… I literally stumbled INTO the shop, thanks to being so fixated on the Portra 400 which I’d noticed on the counter that I didn’t acknowledge the doorstep. Way to make an entrance).

We made a much needed pitstop at a branch of Costa. I don’t even know why I went all MySpace with a mirror selfie whilst we were there, so I’m not even going to try to justify my behaviour. I took a couple of photographs of the same table with different customer sat at it, which I’m filing as a potential idea for a future series. A Day in the Life of a Chair. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to sit in Costa all day.


Barbican

We had no idea where to finish our day’s shoot. We were both pretty tired by this point (in fact, we’d never really recovered from our decision to bypass our fellow travellers by power walking up a deceptively long and steep broken escalator at Oxford Circus station). My launderette fetish had reared its head earlier in the day, when I thought I’d found one in Soho, only to discover with great disappointment on closer inspection that it was a manned dry cleaners, so I did a quick google search of launderettes within a mile of Exmouth Market. The “prettiest” one seemed to be located at the Barbican, so we set off to find it.

On arrival, a sign on the wall proclaimed that photography wasn’t permitted. But that’s just one of those rules that’s just made to be broken, so I used my last Instax shot on those beautiful blue dryers, and took a quick snap with the X100F. We wandered around the Barbican Estate, wishing that the light was better for some shadowy brutalist architectural photography, took a few photographs anyway, and as always at the Barbican, got completely lost in the warren of high rises trying to find the Tube station.


Now that we’ve decided to bypass Exmouth Market, our plans for Saturday involve a ridiculously early start and a wander around Camden. Will the light be in our favour? Will we walk such a ridiculous amount of steps as we did today? Will I return home with more random purchases that I don’t need, like the awesomely-named “Lip Shit” lip balm that I bought today? Will I fall down any more steps? Find out in the next instalment of London Diaries.
Stay Curious,

Love from London x

London Diaries 5 – Sunday 27th January 2019: Mood Board


We didn’t anticipate just how much it was going to rain that day.

In all honesty, I’ve had a lot of difficulty writing up this particular Sunday, because it wasn’t a typical London shoot. My original plan was to spend the day experimenting with the photographic capabilities of my newly-acquired Huawei P20 Pro smartphone. The unanimous advice I received from friends was also to take the Fujifilm X100F “just in case”, so that’s what I did.

First up, I learned that selfies captured on the Huawei P20 Pro are unforgiving. And that I look ultra-miserable first thing in the morning.

To cut a long story short, it was apparent pretty much instantly that to take anywhere near a decent photograph with a smartphone, I’d have to stand pretty still – the polar opposite of my usual street photography technique, which can only be described as “hyperactive”. Well, it COULD be described in other ways, but none of them as kind.

So the X100F made its appearance relatively early on in the day. But so did the rain. PJ (@pj.pix) and I spent a little time strolling around Soho, met up with fellow Instagrammer Gav Hardy (@gavhardythings) for a coffee at Soho Grind (home of the “French Lessons Given Downstairs” neon sign that’s a seemingly permanent inclusion on the London Street Photography Bingo Card), and then wandered around in the rain a little more.

Today’s edition of London Diaries has ended up as more of a mood board than a diary, for several reasons. Firstly, I’m not sure what’s going on with me at the moment, but I’m having some kind of creativity overload, which sounds pretentious AF and probably is. I can’t seem to give any one project my complete attention, and instead I’m dipping in and out of things constantly, completely buzzing with ideas. It would be much better to just do one thing well, but it is what it is.

With that in mind, the second reason for this smorgasbord of “stuff” is that once we left Soho Grind, I spent the afternoon playing with the video capabilities on the X100F, something that I’ve not tried before despite owning the camera since October 2017. Interestingly, I discovered the same problem as shooting with the Huawei – any movement made the footage unusable because there’s no in-built image stabilisation. Ive bought a Sony FDRX3000R video action cam for future videography, so that I can actually film and walk simultaneously. I’m pretty sure that a logical step would be to do vlogging, but it’s completely out of my comfort zone, so I can’t imagine that I’ll be doing that any time soon. I’m going to have to find a more creative way to make my videos more personal without having to actually get in front of the camera, feeling and acting ridiculously awkward and self-conscious. Aspergers is a blessing and a curse.

Bonus Huawei P20 Pro photograph. Just randomly inserted here for aesthetic reasons.

I found an abandoned umbrella on a side alley off of Carnaby Street, which cheered me up immensely, and allowed me to shoot more than I would’ve otherwise been able to with my non-weather sealed gear. Below are the results of my day flitting between camera and phone, and photography and videography:


Provia JPEGs with Fujifilm X100F

I set the X100F to shoot Provia simulation JPEGs only. Normally, I tend to shoot ACROS simulation JPEGS + RAW – I like the black and white JPEGs straight out of camera, and use Lightroom Classic CC to edit and convert my colour RAW files. Plus, I prefer using the LCD with a monochrome display rather than colour when shooting, because I can gauge the light and shadows better in my images.

But this time, I opted for Provia JPEGs only, because I knew that the following week was going to be super busy, and I wasn’t going to have the time to spend in Lightroom messing around with RAW files. I get asked a lot about my editing process. Generally, I use a combination of Lightroom Classic CC, Snapseed and VSCO X to edit my photographs. Why? Because I don’t know how to achieve my desired results using just one program. It really is down to ignorance, and nothing else. Having only shot JPEGS meant that I could skip the Lightroom step and just make edits on the iPad with Snapseed and VSCO X. I’ve put before and after edits on here today. I’d have liked to do sliders, but I don’t know how to do that either.

The two photographs above just worked better with a black and white edit. Each photograph has its own individual mood that needs bringing out. I have about twenty base preset options that I’ve created in Lightroom as options, although a lot of the time I don’t use them. In VSCO X, I gravitate towards various strengths of the AGA, B, E, SS or SUM ranges of presets as starting points for most of my second-level edits. And that’s enough spoilers for one day. This is only the fifth instalment of London Diaries after all.


Huawei Pro P20

There’s quite a lot of features to the camera on the Huawei P20 Pro, but as you know, this isn’t a technical kinda blog. If you’re after all the details, Google is your friend. There IS the option to shoot RAW files, but I wasn’t about that today. First impressions: the black tones are REALLY black, aperture priority mode is pretty stunning, and the black and white shots don’t look like they’ve been taken with a smartphone (even a 40MP smartphone). Stick it in standard “photo” mode, and it’ll automatically select the optimum settings for the scene. There’s zero image stabilisation going on, so it’s important to take your time and shoot carefully. It’s never going to be my first choice for street photography. But if I’m out without the X100F and I’m relying on the old “the best camera is the one you have on you” thing, I can think of worse options to be stuck with.


Videography with Fujifilm X100F

I had to just bin all my video taken whilst I was walking around Soho, once I realised that videoing whilst in motion resulted in nauseatingly shaky footage on playback. This little video that I’ve cobbled together with what was left certainly isn’t the best video I’ll ever make (by a long shot. I hope), but it was fun to make, and that’s what matters. I try to remind myself all the time that everybody has to start somewhere – that this time last year, I’d never really shot any street photography at all, and yet now I feel comfortable that it’s my “thing”. I look at my first street photographs and remember how I would nervously “spray and pray”, and then spend time editing the hundreds of pointless resulting photographs with frankly horrendous presets. Maybe in 12 months time, I’ll be making videos that are a million times better than this one. Maybe not, but I can only hope.

Next time, we’re shooting around the East end of London. Will it be with the X100F? Will it be with the Huawei? Or will I have gone completely insane and decided on a whole new project? Find out, in the next exciting instalment of London Diaries, coming…. whenever I find time to write it.

Stay Curious,
Love from London x