Steady as she goes…

I have been discouraged of late by my lack of progress with photography. In discussing this with an online friend I came to realize that I was in a downward spiral. I would look at my recent contact pages and see few images that I thought warranted printing. When I did find one that looked like a possibility the resulting proof print was invariably disappointing. Even when the subject and composition looked promising the printed image was not something I would give to family and friends or hang on my own wall. When pressed for an honest appraisal my friend would most often say something kind like, “it could be a little sharper but overall it is very good.”

Each time I would try something new, but years of troubleshooting complex electronic systems had drummed into my head the idea that changing more than one variable at a time leads to inconclusive results. So one time I would try a different camera, the next time a different film, then a different developer, etc. And each time the contact page would disappoint, and each time at least one issue was sharpness. I kept repeating this cycle until now, out of desperation, I have decided to try ignoring everything except sharpness and change everything all at once, starting today.

First, I will use a tripod. The benign essential tremor in my hands is getting progressively worse. Pulling the camera against a camera strap over my shoulder, using my Leica tabletop tripod as a chest pod, and leaning against firm supports have helped in the past, but not so much any more. The last straw was a roll of Tri-X I shot with a Nikon SLR using a VR (vibration reducing) lens. Even with the VR turned on several of the shots showed camera shake. A good tripod makes that problem go away. 

And since I will be using a tripod there is no need to limit myself to the 35mm film format. For the same print area a 6×6 medium format negative needs about half the linear magnification as a 35mm negative. I learned a long time ago that I could not hand hold a SLR Hasselblad, or even a TLR Rolleiflex as steady as I could a RF Leica. With a tripod that is no longer an issue. And with a camera on a tripod there are fewer issues with lower ISO films so I will have more flexibility in that area. (I haven’t shot enough lower ISO film lately to predict what effect it will have the impression of sharpness but now I can find out.)

So my plan is to put all of my other camera gear away and use just my Hasselblad on a tripod for a fixed period of time. I gathered together all the 120 film that I had squirreled away in drawers, boxes and shelves around the apartment. I have 15 rolls, made by Kodak, Ilford and Foma, ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 400. A goal of developing one roll of film a week has worked for me in the past so I will try that again. I hope that the variety of films will deal with my impatience to try different things. 

I have not decided yet what to do about developers. Since my little collection of film includes four rolls of Ilford FP4 Plus and four rolls of HP5 Plus I might try developing a roll or two of each with ADOX FX-39 instead of my usual Rodinal. 


2 thoughts on “Steady as she goes…”

  1. I think I benefit from using the same camera most of the time, so I shoot 35mm with my Contax 139Q and medium format with the Mamiya RZ67. I don’t shoot enough medium format to say I have mastered the Mamiya, but familiarity really does seem to help. I need to use my tripod more!


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