saving money


Photography can be expensive: there's no doubt about it. But equally, although there are times when saving money will adversely affect the quality of your pictures, there are many times when it won't. Or to put it more bluntly, there are times when saving money is stupid, and times when not saving money is pretty stupid too. In between, there are times when it makes sense to spend the money if you've got it, but not to worry if you haven't. Here, based on some decades of financial ducking and weaving, are a few tips on getting the best possible value for a given amount of money.


New York City

Frances shot this on inexpensive but still good film (Fortepan) with an elderly Nikkormat and a 25-year-old Vivitar Series 1 90/2.5 macro. The picture would probably look very little different if she had used a Leica and 90/2 Summicron or a Zorkii and 85/2 Jupiter, because it's about composition and tonality, not sharpness and detail. She did however print it on first-class paper (Ilford).



decide what you want to do

This is one area in which we have to admit that we have difficulty in giving advice.

On the one hand, we call ourselves amateurs without hesitation, because our aims are exactly the same as those of any other amateurs: to take the best possible pictures of whatever interests us. As far as possible, we avoid paid photographic assignments because we just don't like doing them: we'll come back to this later.

On the other hand, we normally do have a goal, and it's a goal that will, we hope, help us earn some money: writing about amateur photography (and sometimes professional as well) in order to help other photographers get better pictures.

Even so, there are plenty of other goals. You can aim to shoot pictures you are pleased to have on your walls. You can aim to have your own exhibition (it's fun). You can aim to help an organization: anything from a local cyclists' association to the Tibetan Government in Exile. We've done both, along with the parish church and the local police department. You can aim to get your portfolio, or at least one of your pictures, into a magazine. You can try to win competitions. You can aim to sell your pictures, either as Fine Art or via a picture library such as You can aim to document where you live, with an eye to the future: we have a very few of Frances's father's pictures where he did this, and we wish he had tried harder and more often.



Car in the snow

Frances's late father Artie shot this, probably in the early 1940s. We don't know what camera or lens he used, but the film was Kodak Plus-X Pan, then fairly new. Frances made the print in the early 21st century on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone. Pictures like this -- well composed, of everyday things -- grow rapidly in fascination as the decades pass.

One goal we cannot recommend, at least with a clear conscience, is trying to publish a book of your own pictures. Publishers are extremely hard to convince, unless you already have a track record as a Fine Art photographer, complete with several exhibitions, and preferably a Body of Work as well (see the free Art and Photography module for further information about the nature of a Body of Work). Publishing a book yourself is both difficult and extremely expensive. Design and printing alone are expensive enough: many thousands of pounds, euros or dollars. Warehousing the book and distributing it is even worse. We have never had a 'picture book' published: the vast majority of photographic books we have had published are illustrated 'how to' books, bought at least as much for the information in them as for the pictures.

We can't tell you what goals you ought to set for yourself. In any case, they can (and arguably should) change. But we can give you one small hint about achieving them. Ask yourself what you would like to have done in (say) a year's or two years' time. Don't imagine how you are going to work towards it. Just imagine that you already have achieved it. You are looking back on your first exhibition, your first print sale, your first publication, whatever. Then work backwards from there.

what equipment do you need?

The best camera for you depends on the sort of pictures you want to take: a 'universal' SLR, digital or silver, ain't necessarily what will suit you best or give you the best pictures. For example, if you want to take classic Hollywood-style portraits, it is a lot easier to use an 8x10 inch camera, almost any 8x10 inch camera, than 35mm, any 35mm. And if you want sharp landscapes, even a modestly-priced roll-film or large format camera will normally out-perform even the best 35mm.





An 8x10 inch contact print from a negative taken using the De Vere monorail camera shown in the illustration below. Big old monorails can still be found very cheaply (though you need a substantial tripod or camera stand to support them). The lens is a 21 inch (533mm) f/7.7 Ross which probably dates from before World War One. The shutter (not illustrated here) is a Thornton Pickard roller-blind, probably from the 1920s. The whole outfit, including the camera, lens, shutter, stand and lights, cost under a thousand pounds or maybe $1500.

Lighting is by one spot to camera left, and another, weaker spot (arguably a little too 'hot' or bright) to camera right and behind Dean. Even so, the overall effect is distinctly 'Hollywood' and it was a great deal easier to achieve with this outfit than with 35mm. Film was Ilford FP4 Plus.



This does not mean that 35mm is useless. Far from it. For travel and reportage, we use almost exclusively 35mm: we prefer rangefinders to reflexes, but that's explored in more detail in the (paid) module on rangefinder cameras. We also shoot weddings on 35mm, but this is because we shoot only friends' weddings, as a wedding present, in reportage style. If we were doing weddings conventionally and commercially, we would use digital or roll-film cameras.

black and white and colour

You may have noticed that the majority of the illustrations in this module are in black and white. There are two reasons for this. One is that many of our favourite photographs -- our most personal work -- are in black and white. The other is that if you are serious about your photography, and want to take as much control as possible of the process, black and white allows the most control at the lowest cost.

Where we have used colour, the vast majority of the pictures are from slides. Sure, slide film and processing may cost more than the cheapest colour negative develop-and-print packages, but the advantage is that slides are publication-quality originals in their own right, unlike machine prints.



Budapest, dawn

Carrying 35mm cameras is a lot easier than carrying larger formats, both on the way (by air or by car) and when you actually have to get out and hoof it. Roger shot this with a Leica M4-P and (by the look of it) 90/2 Summicron, on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX. The camera was tripod mounted, but on a lightweight tripod: quality tends to matter more than mass unless you are using very long lenses.

Note that we have thus far referred to formats, not specific cameras. There is no question but that some cameras and lenses deliver better quality than others, but the simple truth is that most half-decent equipment is above what we call the 'quality plateau', the level at which the photographer's eye makes far more difference than the equipment he or she uses.

the quality plateau

In 35mm, the 'quality plateau' comes in at a very affordable level: an old Nikkormat or Canon FTb, for example, with almost any 'professional quality' lens made since the 1970s (or earlier for the best lenses).

With digital, it probably comes in at something like our Nikon D70, though 6 megapixels is as low as you want to go and 10 megapixels is better.

Move up to roll-film, and unless you are planning on very big enlargements, almost any 'pro' camera and lenses from the last 50 years or so will do. For that matter, you may be surprised at the quality you can extract from even 'amateur' roll-film folders. With a big 6x9cm negative, after all, an 8x10 inch (203 x 254mm) borderless print is under a 4x enlargement, which does not make very great demands on the lens or film.


Church of St. Martin, Noize

The KowaSIX single-lens reflex with which Roger shot this dates from the 1970s and was inherited from Frances' father. Because Kowas are hard to fix if they go wrong, they have an undeservedly low reputation and can sometimes be found very cheaply indeed. But the big 6x6cm negative gives you superb quality at reasonable enlargement sizes. The lens was the only one we have, the 85/2.8. Film was Maco Cube 400.




The same arguments as for medium format apply a fortiori with large format, though we'd recommend that you read the free large format module in the Photo School before deciding which large format would suit you best.

liking the equipment you use

Getting satisfactory technical quality is not the same as being happy with the equipment you are using. We own a lot of cameras: after all, Roger first became interested in photography in 1966, and first worked professionally in the early-to-mid 1970s. Unsurprisingly, there are some cameras we are a lot happier with than others. Perhaps the most extreme example is Roger and his Leicas: originally a 1936 IIIa, than an M3, then M2, then M4-P, now MP -- though he bought the M4-P in the early 1980s, and didn't feel the need of another Leica until the MP came out 20 years later.


Retina IIa

We paid 15 euros for this in Luxembourg in about 2003, complete with leather ever-ready case. The counter has since packed up, which is inconvenient but not decisive. It's still an awful lot nicer than any digital camera at anything resembling an affordable price, and delivers better quality too. Also, there's a certain charm in using a 50-year-old camera that is a masterpiece of mechanical engineering.



Take away his MP and he wouldn't give up photography: he'd go back to the M4-P. Take that away, and it's an M2. Take away both M2s and it would be either our Voigtländer Bessa-R2 or a Nikon F. And so forth. He'd probably put up with a digital compact if he had to. He wouldn't like any of them as much as the MP, and to tell the truth, he'd rather have a Zorkii 4K or an Exakta Varex or even a Lubitel than a digital compact. The point is that to a very considerable extent, liking the equipment you use is separable from, and secondary to, liking photography and taking pictures.

What you need, therefore, is the equipment that represents the best compromise between what you want and what you can afford, as long as it does the job. Only when it doesn't do the job are you in real trouble.

how you are being limited by your current equipment?

Arguably the most important factor in traditional silver-based photography, for a given format, is the lenses. When you are a reasonably accomplished photographer, assuming you make the best possible enlargements at a reasonable size, you should be able to see the difference between good lenses, better lenses and the best lenses.



But this is not the same as saying that you have to have the best lenses available. There are times when 'defects' can be turned to good advantage -- many large format users swear by ancient, uncoated lenses -- and a good picture should always 'carry' minor technical shortcomings. Content, composition and passion are far more important than ultimate sharpness, which is a sort of optional extra: it may or may not make any difference to the picture, but if the lens is above the 'quality plateau' described above, in most cases, exactly which lens you use will not make any significant difference.



Roger took this in the 1970s, when it was still OK to photograph children. That means he wouldn't have had a fast 35mm lens (see below) so this must have been taken with one of the 50mm lenses he owned at the time, very likely the pre-war 50/3.5 uncoated Elmar on his 1936 Leica IIIa. Or it might have been the 50/1.8 Takumar on the Pentax SV that his father had bought him when he was 16, though it looks more like the Elmar. It might conceivably have been his 58/1.4 Nikkor, which in those days was the only Nikon-fit lens he had, but this probably antedates the Nikkor...

The point is, who cares? Would a different (sharper) lens make a difference? Film was almost certainly Ilford HP5 (pre-Plus) and the print appears to be on Ilford Multigrade III.



The 'quality plateau' explains why, for example, Roger sticks to his early-1980s 35/1.4 Summilux, the last pre-aspheric version. The current aspheric version is a better lens. So, arguably, is the 35/1.7 Voigtländer Ultron, though it is 1/2 stop slower. And when we borrowed the 35/1.2 Voigtländer Nokton, that was fine too. But the old Summilux is tiny, and sharp enough, and has a finger-mount for focusing instead of a collar, which he much prefers, so he sticks with that. He does not feel limited by it.

"All right," you say, "but that is still one of the finest lenses ever made. No wonder he is happy with it."

Yes. Precisely. He bought his first 35/1.4 Summilux because he wanted a fast wide-angle: it's his standard lens. When it was stolen, he replaced it with another one. If anything happened to this one, he'd look at several options: a current aspheric 35/1.4, a mint second-hand example of the old one, the 35/1.2 or 35/1.7 Voigtländers. Without a fast 35mm lens, he would not be able to take the pictures he wants to, though a fast 50mm would be pretty close. But go up to 200mm and we have two ancient Nikon-fit lenses, a 200/3 Vivitar Series 1 and a 200/4 Nikkor. We prefer the Vivitar because it's faster and focuses closer, but we don't feel seriously limited by the old Nikkor and we certainly wouldn't look for a new 200/2.8.


Girl, Bermuda

Now this really is below the quality threshold. Roger shot it in the 1960s with a nasty zoom (Yashinon 90-190/5.8) AND a 2x telextender, on outdated and badly stored Ilford FP3. It's underexposed and overdeveloped, with 'blown' highlights, but it still has a certain charm. It would be nice if there were a tiny bit more room in front of her toe, though.



It's true that a new lens can give you new visual ideas and open up new horizons. Three Leica lenses that have done that for us, when we were lent them, are the 75/2 Summicron, the 50/1 Noctilux and the 90/2.2 Thambar. But we only bought one of them, the Summicron, because we both fell in love with it and it has replaced 90mm in our affections: Roger finds 35-75 the perfect combination, while Frances prefers 28-50-75. If we could afford a Noctilux or a Thambar, we'd buy both, but we know we wouldn't use them anything like as much as the 35mm (for Roger) or the small, light, compact 50/2.5 Color-Skopar (for Frances). Again, it's a question of not feeling limited.

what do you enjoy in your photography?

Efficiency is not a terribly meaningful word when you enjoy doing something. Would you like to eat more efficiently? Doze more efficiently? Make love more efficiently?

Surely not, insofar as 'more efficiently' means 'quicker and with less effort, in order to free up time to do other things'. The important question is, what would you rather be doing?




The Hunter

For us, an ideal picture is one that reminds us of a happy time (i.e. fulfills the same function as a good snapshot) but is also a striking or interesting shot in its own right.

This fulfills all these requirements for us. The Hunter purifies the stage before the start of a Lhamo (Tibetan Opera) performance, and this was shot at TIPA (the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts) in Dharamsala in the days when it was directed by Jamyang Norbu.


The camera was a Linhof Technika 70 with 100/2.8 Zeiss Planar but it could as easily have been taken with almost any medium format camera (including the KowaSIX mentioned above) or even with 35mm. Yes, technical quality is nice to have -- but it wouldn't matter very much if this had been shot with any camera above the 'quality plateau'. Film was Kodak Ektachrome 64; Roger shot the picture.

Of course there are some parts of photography (and even eating, dozing and making love) that are more fun than others. Processing film is not the most exciting activity on earth, and nor is waking up with a crick in your neck. But if you enjoy printing as much as Frances does, the only reason for printing 'more efficiently' is to make more prints in the same amount of time, which is to say, the maximum amount of time you can devote to it. Even then, it's a mixed blessing. Make more pictures in the same time, and your materials bill goes up. Better, surely, to take your time; enjoy the process as much as possible, and keep the materials bill down.

silver versus digital

We've already suggested that with silver halide photography, the most important thing (after the format) is the lens. With digital, it's a lot more complicated. It's not only a question of how many megapixels: it's also a question of the quality of those megapixels, their density on the sensor, and whether or not a low-pass filter is fitted.

According to whom you believe, 35mm equates to anything from 12 megapixels to 30+ megapixels, with most of the smart money around 18-20 megapixels, so clearly, there's not much point in going for digital if you want maximum quality unless you can afford an awful lot of megapixels.



Chapel cross

Something we quite often do with digital cameras is shoot soft-focus images. This was taken with our 90/4 Dreamagon on our Nikon D70. After all, digital cameras tend to smooth out fine detail anyway, so it makes sense to shoot the kind of pictures where fine detail isn't very important.

Adapting your photographic style to suit the limitations of your camera may be frustrating sometimes, but at other times it can be a positive spur to creativity.



Of course you save money on film if you have a digital camera, but it might be a good idea to see how much you spend on film in a year and ask yourself how much depreciation you would see on a complete film outfit (including a darkroom) in, say, half a decade, compared with the likely expenditure on a complete digital outfit in the same time: camera(s), memory card(s), computer(s), scanner(s) and printer(s), to say nothing of software. Also ask yourself about the relative costs of silver halide photographic paper and chemicals and inkjet or dye-sub paper and inks, which are insanely expensive. Also ask yourself which do you enjoy more: time in the darkroom (which Frances calls her 'sanctuary') or time in front of the computer?

Our own belief is that for the hobbyist, silver is infinitely better value than digital if you are on a tight budget; but this is where our next argument comes in.

buying second-hand

If you go for silver, you have over 150 years of second-hand equipment to choose from; or, if you rule out the stuff that is of antiquarian interest only, or impossibly specialized or expensive or any combination of the three, at least 50 years.

A hundred pounds, or $175 or 150 euros, will buy quite a range of 35mm cameras that will deliver quality that thrashes anything digital costing less than a small new car. You'd be lucky to get a decent 6 megapixel digital compact for the same money.



Tombstone, St Martin, Noize


This was taken with the old Retina IIa pictured above, the one that cost us 15 euros. All right, that was cheap, but even so you wouldn't expect to pay more than 50 or 60 pounds, $100. Depth of field is limited, the result of shooting wide open (at 1/25 second, as far as Roger recalls) in the very poor light inside the church: this was the first time we had ever found it open, and we were entranced. The Retina was the only camera we had with us, loaded with either Ilford HP5 Plus or (more likely) Paterson Acupan 200/Fomapan 200 rated at EI 125. We didn't have a tripod either. If we had, we are reasonably confident that a tripod mounted f/8 shot would have been indistinguishable from one taken with a Leica, unless perhaps the two were minutely compared side by side.

Half a grand -- call it $900 or 750 euros -- will give you an enormous choice, from the finest 35mm (you should just about be able to find a Leica, with a lens if you are lucky) through a wide range of medium and large format cameras with lenses. Or you can buy a new, low-end digital SLR for this sort of money.



If you are really strapped, there's a good chance of picking up a perfectly usable (if limited) camera such as our leaf-shutter Konica rangefinder for twenty quid or less, certainly well under $50 or 40 euros. And if you pay more than a tenner ($20, 15 euros) for a Lyubitel, you've been had.

Place des Vosges, Paris

An unexpected use for the old Konica mentioned above was shooting infra-red film (Kodak EIR). After all, we didn't want to dedicate a Leica body to it, because we wanted to shoot conventional colour and black and white as well.

With colour, where you use a yellow filter, rangefinder cameras have no great advantage, but in black and white, where you often want to use a filter that is visually opaque or nearly so, they are very useful.

Someone might even give you a usable camera: try hanging around a camera club, without trying to make it look too much as if you are on the scrounge. After all, there are plenty of keen photographers with old film cameras that they no longer use, and which aren't worth selling: we were given a Yashica SLR, complete with 50mm lens, because the battery compartment had gone (= no meter) and the covering had been removed from the camera by someone who had presumably intended to re-cover it but either couldn't work out how, or never got around to it. Only the fact that it was a present from a very dear friend, now dead, stops us passing it on.


quality doesn't cost -- it pays

Coming at it from the other direction, if you can afford a top-flight camera -- even an old one -- you have it for life, if you want. An old Leica or Linhof can be frighteningly expensive, but as long as it is in good order (not worn out or gummed up from disuse) you are unlikely ever to wear it out yourself. Even if it is gummed up, an overhaul doesn't cost a fortune. Roger's oldest M-series Leica dates from 1959 and he has had it since the 1970s. It hasn't needed repairing yet....  

large format, alternative processes and saving money

Deeply unlikely though it sounds, switching to larger formats and alternative processes can actually save you money. How can this be, when a single sheet of 8x10 inch film costs only a little less than a whole roll of 35mm, and a sheet of 5x4 inch costs about a quarter as much?

Easy. You spend so much more time in choosing your subject, setting up the large camera, and processing your negatives that in a given amount of time, you will quite likely spend less money. Switch to an alternative process, where you have to coat the paper yourself (or expose printing-out paper for half an hour and process it for 15 minutes), and you get even fewer, even better pictures in the same time.

remember that 'equipment' is more than cameras and lenses

There are two points here. The first, already hinted at, is that a camera on its own -- digital or silver -- isn't much use unless you farm out everything after actually taking the picture. With a traditional camera, you need processing equipment and a darkroom. With a digital camera, you need a computer, image processing software and a printer.

Quite honestly, there is an excellent chance of being given everything, or almost everything, that you need to set up a darkroom. We have lost count of the number of enlargers we have been given, or given away. The idea of setting up a darkroom may seem forbidding, but you really don't need very much space, and for less than the price of a half-decent new computer, you can buy a new Nova Darkroom Tent, as illustrated in the free module on our darkroom(s). If you have a corner about four feet (120cm) square, you have enough room for one of these. Ours has lived in a garage; a scullery; a studio; and even (in temporary accommodation) in the living room. The chances of being given an adequately powerful imaging computer, plus associated software, are slender.



The second point is that quite apart from image processing equipment (silver or digital) there are often many things that can do far more for your photography than a new camera or lens. A tripod, if you don't already own a decent one. Lights. Filters. All sort of accessories, from a hand-held light meter to a simple lens shade. Climpex studio scaffolding (we'll do a module on this one day).


Guns and roses


The song 'Where have all the flowers gone?' is circular. The flowers are gone because they were picked by young girls; the young girls have gone to marry young men; the young men have gone for soldiers; the soldiers have gone to graveyards; and the graveyards have gone to flowers, which have been picked by young girls.



Frances shot this in both black and white and colour. The main reason we have used the colour version here is that we wanted more colour in the module. But the point is that as well as the camera, she needed a light, a 'flag' (a piece of plywood in this case) to shade the background into black, a means of supporting the camera, and a backdrop (which was hand-made from a painter's drop-cloth).

Admittedly there's a danger here. If you are not careful you can waste every bit as much money on unnecessary accessories and other equipment as you can waste on unnecessary cameras and lenses. The secret is to go back to the question posed above: how are you being limited by your current equipment? Do you want to take studio photography more seriously, whether it's still life or portraiture? Maybe what you need is lights, rather than another camera. Do you want dramatic skies in black and white? A simple filter will do it. Close-ups? How about a bellows, or extension tubes, or a close-up lens?

don't skimp on materials

All right. We have made the point that inexpensive second-hand equipment can produce excellent results -- but we have to say at this point that it will only do so if you use decent materials.

processing chemicals

Chemicals, both black and white and colour, can and do go off. Keeping chemicals for longer than the manufacturers recommend is often feasible, but is always a gamble. Black and white developers may oxidize (and go brown) or hydrolyze (and frighteningly often stay clear), but at least you should get thin but hard to print negatives. Overage colour developers will often result in colour casts that are difficult or impossible to remove, even in Adobe Photoshop.

Fixers, hypo eliminators and bleach/fix solutions are usually a lot longer lived and both short stops and wetting agents should last half way to forever: economizing on the latter two by using vinegar or household detergents is among the falsest of false economies.


Litter is offensive


Some developers keep a lot longer than others, and this is one of the great attractions of Ilford DDX as far as we are concerned: it lasts half-way to forever (over 12 months) even in part-full bottles. Nowadays we work one-shot, but the negative from which this was printed was almost certainly processed in home-compounded D-19. Mixing up your own developers used to save money but it doesn't any more: the price of photographic raw chemicals has soared, and their availability has plummeted.



Roger shot this with a Retina II (not IIa) on Ilford HP5 (pre-Plus) and printed it on Ilford graded FB paper. Though he did not realize it at the time, it was a foretaste of the way that England was to go: more and more warnings, restrictions and nannying -- though when he shot this, speed cameras were still a long way in the future.



black and white film

You need to worry least about film if your chosen route is traditional black and white photography and if you use larger formats than 35mm. Outdated film, generously exposed to allow for some loss in sensitivity, will mean more grain, less sharpness and perhaps a bit more fog. None of this will matter all that much with 4x5 inch or above or even with most roll-film formats. In 35mm, image quality will suffer a lot more and printing times (to print through the fog) may become tiresomely long. A few months, even a year, beyond the expiry date may not matter if the film has been well stored; but a film that has been stored next to the central heating boiler may be slow and foggy even before its expiry date.



Silves, Portugal


This is from a 6x7cm negative shot with a 'baby' Linhof that was some 30 years old when the picture was taken; the lens was a 105/4.5 Apo Lanthar. From the tonality the film was probably Ilford XP2, but the point is that for an 8x10 inch (20x25cm) print it just doesn't matter: grain and sharpness are of limited importance in a 3.5x enlargement. (Frances)



With 35mm, therefore, use good, fresh film and make a virtue out of the shortcomings of the cheaper makes: both Foma 200 and Forte films can deliver exquisite tonality, every bit the equal of Ilford or Kodak, even if they are not as fine-grained or sharp (and they aren't). So don't print too big; or downrate them and use fine grain or acutance developers; or go for a 'vintage' look, from the days when no 35mm films were especially fine-grained or sharp.

Accept, too, that different developers do make a difference, and that the difference they make is as much a matter of alchemy as of science. Some people get superb results with combinations that are widely (and by most, justly) regarded as disastrous: Ilford Delta 3200 in Rodinal, for example. Others get really bad results with combinations that are for most people bulletproof: Ilford HP5 in Ilford DD-X, for example. If a particular combination doesn't work for you, try something else.

By all means finish the bottle of whatever developer you have, trying different times or dilutions or both, but do not feel that you are a Bad Person if it won't work for you. Always ignore those who try to tell you that you are stupid and careless and probably lack moral fibre as well if you do not like the combination that they espouse.

black and white paper

It is perfectly possible to make superb prints on outdated paper, with the addition of benzotriazole to inhibit fog, and indeed, one of the best printers (and photographers) we have ever met regarded this as normal: Rustam, a submarine commander retired from the Soviet navy. But unless you are prepared to develop paper for an unconscionably long time, or to put up with greying whites (in the absence of benzotriazole), it is a much better idea to rely on fresh paper. We know of nothing better than Ilford, though other manufacturers are also very good.

Also, paper developers do make a difference. With Ilford papers, for example, we prefer Ilford's own developers, Fotospeed Warm Tone, or Kodak D-163 which we make up from scratch when we run out of everything else.

remake prints

A very false economy is to snatch a print early from the developer because it is darkening too fast, or to accept any second-rate print as 'good enough'. If you have made a print and can see how it could be remade better, with a different exposure, or more or less contrast, or dodging or burning, then remake it. Yes, it is another sheet of paper gone, but surely it is better to use two or even three sheets and make one good print than to make three poor prints. This is definitely one of the areas not to skimp.



Tree and clouds, Portugal

Frances shot this with her old Nikkormat and 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1, adding an orange filter for drama in the skies. The first print was pretty good but a little extra dodging and burning, and a half-grade change in contrast, was even better. It's on the old Forte Forteza paper.



colour film

The enormous problem with colour film is that as it ages, the three colours in the different emulsion layers can get out of touch with one another. The typical problem is that you can have a print with good, neutral highlights and out-of-kilter shadows, or one with good, neutral shadows and out-of-kilter highlights. The normal out-of-kilter colours are either green or magenta.



Although it is possible to compensate amazingly well for this in Adobe Photoshop and some other imaging programs, it is usually impossible to correct the problem using conventional processing, and even in Photoshop it is so much like hard work that it is better to use fresh films, well processed.

Films that have been well stored should be no problem, and if they have been refrigerated or (better still) frozen they should be good for months or even years beyond the expiry date; but a poorly stored film may be unacceptable even before its expiry date. A test roll, sacrificed on an unimportant subject, is the only guide.


Palm trees reflected, India

If you have a reliable source, you can safely buy outdated films. We bought a lot of Fuji RF/RFP ISO 50 from Freestyle in Los Angeles and used it for years after the expiry date -- but Freestyle had kept it chilled, and so did we. Also, as a general (though far from invariable) rule, slow films age slower than fast ones. Roger shot this with his Leica M4-P and 35/1.4 Summilux.

colour paper

We'll be honest: the few colour prints that we make nowadays are mostly either ink-jets from scans or (very rarely indeed) Ilfochromes, formerly Cibachromes, from slides. For those produced by silver halide processes, much the same considerations apply as for colour films.

inkjet papers and inks

If we have to buy inkjet papers, we normally buy either Tetenal or Ilford. The inks we use are Epson, because we use Epson printers.

The rate of change -- one hesitates to call it progress -- in inkjet media is such that you can never be sure of cross-compatibility and the only hope is to try it and see.

If you want good quality in colour, the most reliable route is to use the best papers and inks you can afford: others may work, but you cannot rely upon it. In black and white, go for a dedicated ink-set. The best we have seen is Cone Editions Piezography.

labs and do-it-yourself

The relationship between cost and quality in a lab is all but non-existent, except at the very bottom and very top of the market. The huge ultra-cheap mail-order labs didn't get huge by being bad, but they may be rather more variable than a good local mini-lab where you can establish a personal relationship with the operator: if there is more than one operator, try to cultivate the best one/s. And the top-end hand-printing labs have to be good to stay in business, but their prices per print are likely to be at least ten times those of the cheapest labs, and may approach a hundred times.



Pagoda causeway, Chengde

One problem with processing your own E6 is that you can easily persuade yourself that the colours are 'off', especially in unusual lighting situations such as the rising sun. But the truth is that a surprisingly wide range of colour balances is obtained even from professional labs, and that consistency is more important than whether one lab is CC05R and 1/3 stop different from another. Our favourite E6 chemistry is Tetenal, because they provide instructions on how to rebalance the colours by altering the pH of the developer. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 with his Leica MP and 75/2 Summicron.

Certainly, we have often had better results from an inexpensive mini-lab with an enthusiastic operator than from an expensive minilab costing twice or even three or four times as much. Or the expensive one may be better. The only way to find out is a test roll.

With the exception of C41 'happy snaps', we now process all our films ourselves, including E6 and C41, using a Jobo CPE2 processor. It doesn't always save money but it often does, especially if we process several films at once, and it saves a lot of time as compared with going in to the nearest lab or using the post. Also, we never quite trust the post: pictures can and do get lost.

does it make sense to try to earn money from your photography?

The temptation to try to earn money from your photography is always there. Certainly, we do it, though via a rather oblique method (writing about it, with illustrations).

Our own belief is that if you can afford to ignore vulgar commerce, it's a lot less stressful. Although Roger has earned a living from photography alone, without writing -- in fact, precisely because Roger has earned a living from photography alone, without writing -- we do not recommend it. All kinds of stresses are introduced, most particularly, dealing with deadlines and dealing with clients, to say nothing of hoping for good weather and 'eating' (paying for) reshoots.



Photography can be a delightful sideline, but there are two things to remember. The first is that you are competing with professionals who have to charge a realistic rate if they want to eat: how would you feel if someone volunteered to do your day job for half your salary, because they had another job and didn't really need the money? Second, if you say you are going to deliver, you had better do so.

We choose photographic jobs in exactly the same way as we choose other jobs. Is it profitable, and is it fun? Because if you are not working for either fun or profit, what the hell are you working for?


Neil and Leslie

Shooting weddings is the classic way to supplement your income as a photographer, but we really cannot recommend it: too much stress, and (unless you make a name for yourself, and are very, very good) not too well paid. We shoot weddings only for friends; only when they insist; only in 'reportage' style, with the minimum of formal shots; and only as a wedding present. To date, we have shot five; there is a possible sixth on the horizon, if she ever settles down...

Roger has known Neil since about 1966; this was close on forty years later. Frances shot this on Ilford XP2 Super using a Nikkormat and Voigtländer 75/2.5 lens, then printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

the bottom line: variety is the spice of life

The final thing we would do in this module is to refer you to another free module, How Many Cameras Do You Need? For us, one of the great pleasures of being amateurs is being able to go from one genre to another, and one camera system to another, depending on what we feel like doing that day, that week or that month. We firmly believe that it is better to have two or more relatively inexpensive cameras or systems in different formats or even in different styles -- for example, rangefinder 35mm and reflex 35mm -- than to keep chopping in one system against another in the pursuit of an illusory Holy Grail.

Let's say you have a Nikon SLR system (digital or film) that is a few years old, and you are contemplating chopping it in against either a newer Nikon system or a Canon system. Our advice is: don't. Keep your existing system and apply the cost of the trade-in against something completely different, such as a second-hand MPP 5x4 inch camera or (if you can afford it) a new Leica with a single lens. Your new system will provide an inevitable kick to your vision, but if or when you decide that there were things that the old system did better, well, go back to it. Then you can change back to the new system when you feel like it...


Tankard, asparagus, artichoke

This is the kind of still life that very few people would consider shooting -- but when you have a 5x7 inch camera, you start thinking about things differently. Yes, it's completely different from any of the 35mm shots in this module, and although you can see the resemblance to the digital still lifes in the still life gallery, a digital camera would have some difficulty in holding this big a tonal range. (Roger)





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© 2006 Roger W. Hicks