2015 10 - Down Memory Lane

18th October 2015
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
Images by Heather Storton, Jenny Smith, Russell Nye & Alan Townsend

Down Memory Lane

Dave Butcher’s presentation to the club covered three less common areas. He presented only black and white images, all as prints, produced by a film camera and developed in the darkroom. A qualified chemist, he managed for Ilford’s now defunct print department for many years and still prints their material for trade exhibitions. He now sells prints, licences his images for commercial reproduction, lectures and runs photography workshops with his wife, Jan.

Dave’s title of ‘Lake Light’, took us further afield than the anticipated Lake District. We began in Chicago, looking at cityscapes, which can look dramatic in black and white. Many of Dave’s images were taken in winter at night and the reflection of the light bouncing off the snow adds to the effect, lightening the sky against austere modern architectural shapes.

The characteristics of film mean Dave has to shoot long exposures, and for this type of shot he was exposing for 1 to 2 minutes. With this in mind, all his shots were taken using a tripod. He later revealed that he skied to some viewpoints complete with camera, two lenses, filters and tripod. No wonder he now has back problems which necessitate using a faster film to enable him to hand hold the camera. A big bonus of joining our club is the ability to see wonderful photographs captured after great physical effort by a photographer without the need to go to such extremes, and we thank the speakers and our own dedicated landscape enthusiasts for that regularly.

Dave has a shot in his mind before he goes out and he has returned to the same site numbers of times to capture exactly what he wants. An image of New York had been inspired by being stuck there on business when several feet of snow fell in a few hours. The shot we saw had only a light dusting, which is all he has so far managed to find. He is still trying. A shot of snow dusted trees against a snowy mountain took visits over nine years to find the right conditions. His discipline means that he shoots few duds, and far fewer shots overall than many of us. He carries rolls of ten frame film and will take duplicate images of important shots in case there is a flaw in the film. He expects to be able to print them all.

We returned from New York to the Lake District, again in winter and with a view of Buttermere, its frozen surface covered by snow. Some shots showed the sun in a pleasing starburst, which Dave explained could be achieved successfully by placing it behind the branches of a tree in the viewfinder and working at f22, which we know from our last speaker gives a longer exposure without burning out.

All Dave’s work is based on landscapes and reflections feature strongly. In some cases the simple reflection in still water worked very well in Lakeland situations. He pointed out the features kindly placed in the landscape for the benefit of photographers – an amusing and different take on the ‘following in the tripod holes of others’ remarks we hear from some judges when producing shots of familiar scenes including helpful rocks, jetties and poles. A shot of a set of poles was improved by the ripples left after the wake of a passing boat had died away, defining the water surface and the start of the reflection.

Members asked questions as Dave proceeded and he shared many of his ideas. As he prints with very little adjustment in the darkroom, his cropping is often done to the print after it emerges. He echoed the views of other speakers when he described cropping off some of the foreground if it is uninteresting, and balancing the result by cropping the sky also. Sometimes the sky goes entirely if it adds nothing to the image. He has standardised on three sizes for images he sells through his web site, but crops as the image demands for prints to support his talks. Frequently Dave opts for a square crop. He showed two square prints of one of his images for comparison – one his own and one produced commercially for a calendar and the greater detail in his was very evident.

To achieve the desired result, sometimes Dave has to use different techniques to a colour photographer. Yellow filters separate the tones of greens and dark orange will make a blue sky appear darker, both clearly not options when shooting in colour. Dave’s camera has no zoom, meaning he has to use entirely fixed focus, or prime, lenses. The longest is equivalent to a 75mm for a modern digital camera, which also dictates how he approaches his view finding and composition.

Dave uses infra-red photography for some of his summer shots. In these conditions he uses a filter, which effectively stops down the shot by 6 f-stops, leading to much longer exposures and demanding the tripod. The resulting shots have dark skies and trees which look snow-clad. It is a technique well suited to a bright day to achieve a striking black and white image. On dull, misty days when a colour photographer might put away the camera, black and white can come into its own as misty, low contrast images of cloud-shrouded mountains and lakes can be stunning, as we saw.

Following our visit to the Lakes, we moved to Scandinavia, but again this started differently to what might be expected. Dave and Jan were unable to travel direct to Sweden, so their trip, and thus our experience, began in Holland with drainage windmills. Here Dave had to learn on the job to discover what exposure time worked for the moving sails. Without the benefit of an instant replay or mobile darkroom, the only way to do this was to shoot at a range of speeds to see what worked. He said he doesn’t carry a digital compact for reference, but as Jan works in digital colour, we suspected she might have helped out here.

We were treated to views of Hamburg, with reflections of buildings reconstructed after the War, followed by Viking longboats at Rosklide in Denmark accompanied by helpful travel tips. And so to Scandinavia, where we saw Swedish cityscapes and Norwegian mountains, wooden churches and spectacular very modern architecture.

Our whirlwind world tour ended in the USA looking at rock formations in Utah. This landscape is truly stunning from ‘Canyon Land’ with its deep canyons carved out from a plateau through Goblin Valley with its strangely shaped prominences like little people as far as the eye could see and sweeping, stratified landscapes with hundreds of exposed rock layers to the vast rock arches formed by limestone erosion. Add a sprinkling of snow to this and it was a fitting place to end.

Our ‘Photographer’s Question Time’ event on 23rd November needs us to provide questions in advance so the experts come with all the answers. Please bring your questions to a meeting soon. Members are also reminded to sign up for opportunities to photograph either Egmanton church, with its stunning interior or a motorcyclist in action. We are looking forward to two forthcoming meetings to help us improve our high speed work. Gary Bailey returns on 26th October to talk about ‘Shooting Action Photography’ followed on November 2nd by Steve Bond discussing ‘Sport Photography and Freelance Photography’.