A PHOTOGRAPHERS TALE PART 3

My first print was, as I said in the last post, a bit of a disappointment to say the least.
All I had for my efforts was a wet sheet of paper witch had to all intents turned black on one side. Exposure I realised immediately was the problem, but how to remedy it and by how much ?

We jumped out of ' our ' helicopter and immediately began taking pictures.

We jumped out of ' our ' helicopter and immediately began taking pictures.

So I tried another print this time giving it half the exposure of the first. I slid the blank sheet of printing paper into the developer and began to rock the tray gently back and forward to cover the print with developer. Again the paper began to darken, this time rather more slowly. after a minute I had a photograph, still too dark, but at least I could see the original scene I had taken. After fixing the print I took it out into the light and washed it in the sink. Wow, my first black and white photograph. Too dark, but now I was getting somewhere and it was exciting, and after all these years and many tens of thousands of prints, still is a wonderful experience. If you have never developed your own films and prints, you are missing out on a very particular experience.
There is an even more important connection.
Learning about digital photography and playing on a computer is one thing. Learning how to use film gives you an insight and greater understanding into photography that enables you to use digital cameras and photoshop to a greater degree.

I am self taught in digital photography and photoshop techniques. I had to be. Way back in the very early 1990’s I had the honor of a call from the press office at Whitehall, in London. The call came through at 3.00am. I was told that If I wanted I could go on a trip to the Royal Navy aircraft carrier ‘ Ark Royal ‘ which was heading for the Bosnia coast. I had to be at Portland Bill in Dorset at 6.00am for a pre flight briefing !

Problem was I was in Wiltshire at the time, about a 100 miles away. What ! I then woke up, bloody hell, I’m off to the Ark Royal by chopper. I did my usual ablutions at double speed and grabbed my camera bag. In the large Billingham 550 bag were my trusty Nikon F2, F3 and an FM2n for back up, though I have never needed a back for a Nikon yet ! Grabbed an SB16 flash thinking there would be little need for flash anyway and to take a big Metz was too bulky. Now in a state of panic I decided on lenses. 20mm f2.8 essential as space would be limited and I liked to get in close for those intimate impact images. Next a 28mm and my 80-200 f4 Nikkor, that I decided would cover just about every possibillty. Grabbed a pro pack of Ilford HP5 and some 400 ASA ( ISO ) colour neg.

My long suffering partner was a wonderful lady and had risen and while I was getting ready had made coffe and breakfast and then decided to drive me there herself.

Now north Wiltshire to the Dorset coast for those not of UK origin is not a road journey you would pick if you needed to get somewhere fast. No motorways for a start. ‘ A’ and ‘ B’ roads was the best route we decided and at that time of the morning there would be little traffic. Driving through the dark we past Warminster, Longleat Safari park, then down through Dorset passing the giant ‘ Rude man of Cern Abbas ‘ a 180 foot high figure cut into the hillside was just visible in the dawn mists. Thought to date back to 180-190 AD the figure is of a man and there is no doubt that it is of a man ! Always meant to get some pictures of him, but I thought the MOD would not be best pleased if I turned up late because having stopped to take pictures of a chalk figure on the way !

The panic only ended when we arrived at Portland Bill Naval base with minutes to spare and I was ushered into an office with several other photographers and journalist from the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and the Times. We were given our briefing and then had to climb into our survival suits. Bright orange and very cumbersome. A bit like an old fashioned bell diving suit in luminous orange. An instant camaraderie developed between members of the press. We all looked so silly and so had to record the event by taking pictures of each other of course.

Then we marched across the runway to our transport, a Lynx helicopter. I had been in a Lynx several times before while taking pictures for the Navy and royal dockyard in Gibraltar, but some of my companions were not too sure about the trip to say the least.
My previous experiences had involved sitting at the open door attached to the chopper by a leather belt around my waist and that in turn attached to a long strap. it is in fact possible to fall out, but only about ten feet !

As we arrived at the aircraft carrier the BBC and independent TV crews were busy filming and I wanted to get some shots. I got up from my seat and undid the strap, for on this occasion it was short and did not allow me to get close to the open door with it still attached. I groped my way past my fellow passengers who seemed quite content to remain where they were. Now Being daring to get pictures is one thing, being stupid is another. How was I to get close to the doorway without the possibility of falling out. The survival suit meant considerable mobility problems and of course hanging on to something was impossible while using cameras at the same time. I had the honor of being invited and respect for that alone meant being careful not to turn the exercise into a rescue ! A journalist sat opposite the door nodded to me and I understood. He would hold on to my belt while I stood in the doorway. Speech was not possible due to the noise of the engines.

ONE OF THE SHOTS TAKEN WHILE IN THE LYNX HELICOPTER

ONE OF THE SHOTS TAKEN WHILE IN THE LYNX HELICOPTER

We were then told to prepare for landing, so I thanked my ‘ saviour ‘ and managed to hobble back to my seat.

Landing was a little bumpy, I love all that sort of thing, but it seems I was one of the few on board that did ! Immediately on landing I started shooting pictures on deck in the rough weather. Then disaster struck. I reached into the pocket of my bag for more film and drew out a pro pack of 120 roll film ! in my rush and being half a sleep I had packed the wrong sized film. I had only a few frames left in one camera and half a roll of fast colour neg in the other. I was going to have to be very careful about the pictures I took !

Having judiciously shot a few more pics. a rating came up to me. ” are you Kevin ” ? he asked. Yes I replied rather curiously. ” Can you come with me, Chris North, our phot says he knows you and wants to see you ”
I coulden’t believe it. Chris, a brilliant photographer was at the time the Royal Navies chief photographer and an old friend from my gibraltar days, just happened to be on board.
Astonished I was led down into the bouncing ship.
After a rapid chat about coincidence and old times I could not resist the opportunity, ” er chris I seem to have left most of my film on shore I wonder if … ”
He laughed, you mean you come all this way and have left your film behind ? ”
Feeling very sheepish I had to admit my stupidity. ” Here ” he kindly tossed me a few rolls, that enough ” ? I thanked him profusely and we agreed to meet in the officers mess for a few pints later.
That chance meeting meant I was given the right to roam after a chat with the skipper. I was well know from Gibraltar and chance had thrown me a line.

I spent an hour wandering about the ship taking shots and NOT taking others.
A photographer has to know his stuff in such circumstances and I knew there were pictures you took and those you did not. Same were common sense, some were down to knowledge. Thus my ability to roam. From experience and a degree of common sense I knew the score.

honored I was allowed onto the Bridge of the Ark Royal

honored I was allowed onto the Bridge of the Ark Royal


A few pints of HSBC in the mess and a chat to other photographers from ‘ Fleet st ” revealed that we were on a slippery slope. The introduction of autofocus, autoexposure cameras had increased the number of photographers chasing celebrities. The tabloids were selling more papers with such ‘ news ‘ pictures. ‘Real ‘ or serious photographers with vast experience and talent were becoming redundant and the numbers of people chasing so called celebs for money were flooding the profession. You either had to take up running a pub or do weddings and commercial work.

Which is where I left off. Learning to use photoshop at speed became a necessity if I was to survive. ‘ I had been out of the game ‘ for just a few months and things had changed rapidly as I was about to learn when I tried to sell my pics.

Choppers on deck of HMS Ark Royal during excercise

Choppers on deck of HMS Ark Royal during excercise

I phoned the picture desks and was asked if I could ‘ Mac ‘ my pictures through as sending bike riders to collect the films was no longer being used. Portland Bill to London by car was out, it would take to long. I did manage to sell my pics, but not as many as I could have,
I knew how to use a computer and a Mac from old and so It was a rapid purchase of an Apple Mac and a film scanner. No digital then, that was about to happen.
Brides and Grooms sometimes ask me if I miss doing such work. Yes I do, but wedding photography in Wales can be just as demanding, but I never have forgot to take film….

Many thanks to Chris North who now runs a photography business in Leeds.

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