Artimate Snowgrips

As well as your camera and accessories every photographer has a number of other items in their artillery useful or necessary to do their job.

Over the future I will tell you and review some of these (often little) gadgets which make the job that bit easier.

First up is something I was going to get for last winter but didn’t so when I was in an outdoor shop this autumn I decided that now was the time before I miss another winter.

As the weather has panned out this winter they have been a real bonus, so what am I talking about.

Snowgrips, a sort of junior crampon, they attach to the sole of your climbing shoes to give extra grip in snowy or icy conditions.

They slip over the sole of your boots in just a few seconds and are removed as quickly which is useful as you wouldn’t normally wear them when on a solid surface.

Having said that I did drive over ten miles in them and it didn’t make driving awkward.

So do they work ?

Absolutely, I first tried them on a quick partial climb of the Paps of Jura, not deep snow but often frozen and also areas of ice. They made the whole experience of walking on these surfaces a lot more confident.

Basically they are six metal studs set into a flexible elastic support, the studs dig into the snow or ice to stop any sliding a bit like the way studded car tyres work.

On an area of sheet ice, I tried to slide across it but the studs dug in and I couldn’t slide even with my momentum trying to push me along.

One of the reasons why you perhaps wouldn’t wear them on a solid surface would be through increased wear of the studs.

So do they replace crampons ?

Definitely not, if you were ice climbing then the extra grip and security on crampons is vital.

The choice here is whether you would use something like this or nothing at all.

Then the decision would be a definite YES  especially as they cost £15 for a pair.

You would expect to pay well into three figures for even a ordinary  set of crampons but then they are  doing a different job.

There are a number of different but new solutions similar to these on the market now, some look useful but I am not sure about some of them.

Expect to pay from £10 upwards to around £45 but if our winters are going to carry on as the last two they could end up being a very useful purchase.

In my opinion they have already justified the case to be in my gadget box.

Value for money 10/10         Ease of use 9/10      Performance  9/10

Baryta Digital Papers

Here is a quick look at a fairly new product line in the digital world.

Many photographers who did their photographic learning during the days of film, emulsions and silver halide and who did their their own B&W photographic printing will no doubt have their favourite combinations of film, developers and printing papers.

There weren’t really any rights or wrongs here, just personal preferences as we may have with many things in life.

For me, my “fave” film was always FP4 with it’s fine grain structure although at times I did use a lot of XP1 and XP2 because it was a C41 process which could make things easy and quick.

When it came to B&W papers, I used hundreds of square acres of Ilford Multigrade because you could vary the contrast without having to change your pack of paper as it was done through the enlarger.

However when it came to entering pictures into camera club and other competitions Multigrade didn’t have quite the edge needed or should I say the premium finish that I wanted.

I wasn’t alone in these thoughts which is why most photographers who cared about these things used Ilford  Gallerie paper, this paper had an amazing quality. it was a fibre based paper as are all traditional papers where as Multigrade was a resin coated paper, a sort of plastic coating which gave very rich blacks and a high gloss finish. The ease of handling, printing, drying and final finishing made Multigrade very popular but it wasn’t the business when it came to exhibtion prints.

Now the problem with most fibre based papers were as well as the handling (development,fixing and washing times were always much longer) was that achieving rich blacks, which was always important to me was difficult.

Ilford Gallerie seemed to  overcome this even in the Matt finishes so became the benchmark that other papers were judged against.

Then Ilford appeared to conquer the holy grail by producing a resin coated paper but with the finish of Gallerie and this was known as Ilford  Multigrade FB (FB for Fibre base). Here we could now change contrast in the enlarger with a fibre based paper that was semi resin coated.

This product was never the success I thought it might be and then history changed so much when the digital revolution started.

All of a sudden darkrooms all over the world were being ditched in favour of inkjet printers.

These were being used by people that didn’t understand printing, the colour spectrum or the consumables being used. Consequently in the professional market prints were being sold that had no known longevity, in fact I bet many of these prints are back to white sheets of paper !

Some of the blame may be attached to the fact that manufacturers were turning out all these products saying that it was the answer when it clearly wasn’t.

Over the years printers, inksets and papers have improved rapidly where now a digital print can have more longevity than a silver halide print.

For instance many early inksets were dyes, nowadays all pro printers use pigment inks which has made an enormous difference.

However development has gone into printing media as well with the challenge of making digital papers feel like traditional darkroom papers or art papers.

Photographers with an eye on quality  have been using these fine art papers for a while now, for me it Hahnemule PhotoRag 308gsm which has generally become the industry benchmark against any new papers are judged.

Most manufacturers will have an equivalent to this, now more recently (well about two years ago, which I know is a lifetime in digital terms !), manufacturers started producing a paper with a Barium Sulphate substrate and by doing this it drew the ink into the paper therefore increasing the longevity of the print and giving a finish as close to Ilford Gallerie as I have ever seen.

This paper has a weight of 325gsm so a heavy weight paper indeed and I needed to increase the platten gap on the printer to ease it’s way through the paper track.

Obviously one thing I can’t do here on a screen is demonstrate the difference between different papers so you will need to take my word for it.

But trust me this paper type is the business for exhibition prints, I tried the gloss finish which is more akin to semi gloss in digital paper terms but similar to Gallerie Gloss as I remember it.

I then read about the fact if you increased the ink output onto the paper by up to 10% then prints would have an even grater colour saturation.

Because I use roll papers in my printers I use RIP software for paper and ink management therefore can’t adjust inkflow.

So I cut a piece off the roll and printed through Photoshop using the Epson driver where you can manage inkflow.

The result was a slight improvement but only slight and I think that doing this wasn’t worth the hassle and perhaps would only do it if I didn’t use a RIP.

The weight of the paper and the finish which felt a little waxy was first class but are there any downsides ?

Well there always seems to be a downside with anything that appears to be good in life.

Firstly it might depend on which printer you are using, as I said it is a heavy weight paper so might not want to feed easily with cheaper printers.

The other point is cost, from a roll of Epson paper (30 metre) I could expect to print about 80 prints at a cost of about £1 per print plus ink of course.

From Hahnemule Photorag the cost would rise to about £2.60 and with Baryta to just over £3 per print, so it is roughly three times the cost of Epson paper but for me as a fine art photographer it is a no brainer, the print cost is a very minor part of the overall value of the print and with the beautiful finish that takes me back to my darkroom days I am hooked. What I haven’t done as yet is try any competing products of Baryta paper and I will give the Ilford equivalent a chance very soon.

Because I have only just got the paper I didn’t have any profiles for it in my RIP so I started by using Epson Semi gloss as that always seems to be a good stand in for everything, but not for this.

Eventually I have settled on Ultrasmooth Fine Art and this seems to be good with no excess ink left on the paper , incidentally I mentioned above about increasing ink output, if this is done with a fairly standard gloss/semi gloss paper then set your printer driver to a fine art/matt paper setting and it will be more effective.


DSLR’s & High ISO’s

Cognac at 2500 ASA

A lot has been written in the photo press this year about the latest crop of DSLR cameras and their ability to shoot at high ISO’s in some instances to over 100,000 ASA with acceptable results.

With my change in cameras earlier this summer, here was a chance to try out these claims.

I spend quite a bit of time in various bonded warehouses in Islay ( for photographic reasons obviously ! ), these not being the brightest places to work should mean a good test for these new claims.

Today I was asked to shoot some images of  Eric Forget, cellar master at Hine Cognac, the only Cognac supplier with a royal warrant to the Queen.

Hine Cognac are maturing some Cognac at Bunnahabhain Distillery as both companies are owned by the same group.

Traditionally Cognac finishes it maturing in casks near water but not normally on Islay, so this is a sort of experiment to see what difference it makes.

Anyway back to the photography, I had decided against using flash as this would have had the effect of making the background like a cave and I wanted to show various casks in the background.

Whilst I could ( and did ) use a tripod, my exposure times were still limited in time because my model still had to remain as still as possible through the exposure.

So no chance of using ISO 100 here as a reasonable amount of depth of field was also needed.

I felt that I couldn’t go for exposures of longer than 1/2 second because of subject movement and because of the DOF requirement, I didn’t want to use the lens any wider than F7.1.

With the shots being taken around 24-30mm in focal length, I could at least rely on better DOF because of focal length.

So putting this info into the camera, it became apparent that my ISO was going to be 800, so be it !

Checking the preview screen after exposure and things looked OK but then thats only a small screen and not an A3 print.

As options were limited, the rest of the shoot carried on as that.

I decided to do some hand held close ups of some poured Cognac, because these shots weren’t so crucial it was an opportunity to hike the ISO and see what happened.

So for the glass shot the ISO went to 2500 with an exposure of 1/5th, about the lowest that I am comfortable hand holding even with IS lenses. The aperture used was F5 as shallow DOF I felt was going to add to the composition.

Back home and on the big screen and the shots looked fine, but that’s still only at screen resolution.

The real proof of the pudding was going to be an A3 print, so the file with the glass was printed with the final result looking like a ISO 400 colour negative print from ten years ago or so, in other words pretty good with practically no noise at all.

One point worth remembering is that just like using high speed neg films in low light, low light digital photography requires a pretty exact exposure.

If when you open up the file in Photoshop or Bridge and you need to adjust the exposure ( up or down ) then the chances are it won’t make a large print, so take care with exposure metering.

So the high ISO claims are  fairly accurate but why people need a camera that will effectively meter a situation in which you or the camera couldn’t focus is beyond me.

Sensor quality is more important than being able to expose at 100,000 ASA.

Eric Forget at 800 ASA

Rain protection for cameras

Earlier I wrote about an extreme weather situation and taking pictures.

The photo is of the gadget I used thast day.

It is made of thin plastic with a small hole punched in it, this is placed over the viewfinder, once the eyecup has been removed, the eyecup is then put back over so that viewing vision isn’t impaired.

The camera is then placed through the large entrance at the other end and a drawcord can be tightened around the lens so that just the front element of the lens is exposed.

All controls on the camera are then fairly easy to locate and use through the transparent plastic.

The only parts of the camera therefore exposed to the elements are the viewfinder and the front of the lens.

As I wrote earlier, this combination was subjected to a lot of water and none got through to the camera, the camera was dry once the cover was removed.

I was using the Canon 24-105 L lens and I think in these situations you would should only consider using the weatherproof L lenses, once the cover was removed (a little too early in this instance) both the camera and lens received a good drenching  but actually this has had no after effects on the equipment.

I have also used them whilst shooting from a kayak and whilst paddling kept the ensemble in a dry hatch in the back of the kayak with no problems.

Doing some research for this article, I was trying to find the manufacturer/price for it, but couldn’t find it, but I seem to remember that a pack of two of these bags were about £5-6 so extremely good value for money.

I would recommend them providing the equipment wasn’t going to be submersed.