I’m in training for a marathon; not the 26 mile torture that involves the human body searching for a wall to hit, but the photographic kind. The Cardiff Photo Marathon has been going since 2004 and I try to take part as often as I’m able. The rules require 12 photos in 12 hours on 12 topics supplied 4 at a time throughout the day. Sounds easy enough but it is in fact a grueling test of both your physical and creative stamina.
It was switched to digital a few years back which meant the loss of the delayed gratification that comes with using film. There are no weeks of excitement now, waiting for the exhibition to see what on earth you captured on your precious roll of film. At the end of a long day, you now know if you have got photographic gold or a series of ‘What was I thinking?’ moments. I realised last time that deleting as I went along was a mistake, because by keeping all your ideas for each topic in chronological order you can then edit the set with a retrospective view on the whole day. There is nothing wrong with that but it’s quite a different challenge than when you use film. The truth is, I imagine, that plenty of people were taking digital snaps to see how their film idea was going to work……I sure did once or twice.
This year I noticed they were allowing 50 people to use film and in a purist moment of madness, I volunteered for this option. Since then, I’ve been slightly panicking about what kind of hair shirt I’ve just pulled on. Choosing a camera is exercising me; should I take the easy option of a modern AF or old school manual. To this end I’ve been shooting with my trusty old Nikon F3HP to see if it can hold up to the challenge. This did not start well and it pains me to confess the first roll didn’t load correctly and, unspotted by me, was failing to wind. Imagine my horror when I realised this after an hour of purposeful photographic art … oh, how I chuckled.
Chastened by this disaster, I considered abandoning old school in favour of a Nikon F80 but thought I’d probably learnt my lesson and persisted. This time I made sure I loaded the film correctly in the F3 and selected a Nikon 18mm lens to wander around the Cardiff Barrage. I’m really not used to shooting this wide and had no idea what to expect which I guess is half the fun.
The viewfinder on the F3 is huge and uncluttered like a HD TV stuck to your eyeball. That is a great advantage compared to looking at a digital LCD on a sunny day. I did occasionally forget I’d moved the exposure compensation dial and using 18mm as your field of vision increases the danger of tripping over stuff, but not for nothing was this camera a classic. It feels solid and comfortable while all the controls fall easily to hand. It was a dull old day and frankly the Barrage has very little new to offer me, but I managed two rolls of HP5 with ease. By the end, I was warming to the idea of rocking up at the Millennium Centre with this rather lovely machine.
I processed in Ilford HC at 20 degrees 1 to 31 dilution for 6 minutes. It’s the first time that I’ve used this developer for a while and it always seems stronger than I expect, resulting in over-processed negatives – not so great for scanning. It all gets a bit grainy for my tastes, so I’ll probably increase the dilution next time. A tweak in Lightroom 4, with some Antique preset, and I’m done.