Stuck in the right place

March 5th, 2015

Dame Vivienne Westwood: 18-105mm DX, 105mm (157mmmm)

I think I made some good images of the speakers at No Fracking Anywhere! in Old Palace Yard in front of Parliament on Jan 26, but despite this and my support for the issues, it wasn’t an event I really enjoyed covering. And although I’m on good terms with many of the photographers present and like to meet them while covering events, this was one of those times when there were just far, far too many of us.

Bianca Jagger: 18-105mm DX, 90mm (135mm)

The reason for the huge interest was undoubtedly the fact that two ‘celebrities’ were among the speakers, Bianca Jagger and Dame Vivienne Westwood, and once they had both spoken the ranks thinned out considerably, making life rather easier.

Caroline Lucas MP: 18-105mm DX, 38mm (57mm)

Fortunately when I saw that the speakers were to be using a relatively small trolley as a makeshift stage, along with a few other photographers I realised things were going to be very tight. Two rather large and tall press photographers had stationed themselves rather close to it and bang in the centre in front of the microphone, establishing where the front line of photographers would be, and I went and stood at their side. Ideally I would have liked to be a metre or so further back, but knew that if I moved back others would simply come in front of me.  I  was also glad they had chosen to stand in the middle, as I seldom if ever like to work from dead centre, not least because the microphone is then always in the way.

Soon there was a vidographer pressing on my right shoulder, and several rows of photographers behind. At one guy’s request I put my camera bag on the floor in front of me so he could work through the narrow gap between my thighs and those of the man on my left, whose shoulder I was being pushed into. Other photographers were poking lenses over both my shoulders, and there were others further back trying to take pictures over our heads,  easier over mine than the two six-footers to my left, though at least one photograph was up on his step ladder.

Joan Walley MP: 18-105mm DX, 66mm (99mm)

I don’t find it easy to stand in one place, hardly able to move an inch, difficult at times even to swivel my upper body around, for over an hour. Much of that time there was little or nothing taking place to be photographed, but having got a good position I didn’t want to move and lose it until things were over. But by the end of that time it was getting quite painful, suffering in both legs and my back.

Tina-Louise Rothery: D800e, 18-105mm DX, 18mm (27mm)

There were other photographers to the left of the ‘stage’, some actually sitting on it, though I think they will have had little opportunity to take photographs of the speakers, and would probably have been better off drifting away to photograph the rest of the protesters. But unless I wanted them in my pictures (and generally I didn’t) I couldn’t work with a very wide lens. Most if not all of the pictures I took in that hour and a quarter were with the 18-105mm lens, enabling me to show speakers from the waist up at the wider end to tightly framed heads at the long.

D800e, 18-105mm DX, 42mm (63mm)

There were fortunately a number of people with placards and banners, as the area of the Houses of Parliament behind the speakers from my position wasn’t really too exciting.

John Ashton, Former UK Government Special Representative for Climate Change: D800e, 18-105mm DX, 28mm (42mm)
There are quite a few more portraits of these and the other speakers, as well as other pictures from  the event at No Fracking Anywhere!

The only picture in this post with the D700 and 16-35mm – at 21mm
Many of the press photographers sped away to file their images of Dame Vivienne as soon as she ended her speech, making it a little easier to photograph the rest of the event – and I could even use my favourite 16-35mm wideangle.  I rather liked this group around the Greenpeace House, with Julian Huppert MP, Norman Baker MP, Bianca Jagger, Caroline Lucas MP and John Ashton, though the hand at the right of the image is perhaps a little annoying.
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Parliament Square Saga Continues

March 4th, 2015

After the CND rally against Trident replacement, several hundred of those taking part walked the short distance to Parliament Square and stepped over the low wire with warnings against trespass to protest with Occupy Democracy on the sacred grass.

It was the latest in a series of protests by Occupy, part of their attempt to introduce real democracy to the UK which has certainly resulted in some strangely extreme responses from parts of our establishment, particularly London’s Mayor and his private security force. Though there have been times when I would not have been surprised if they had called in the troops.

There are relatively few of Boris’s Heritage Wardens, but they seem to have been able to call on the Metropolitan Police to make some very doubtful interventions in the square. Its something that has been going on for some years; long before ‘Occupy’ it was the peace protest by Brian Haw and his associates, and later the Democracy camp that attracted their attention.

It has never quite seemed rational to me, perhaps because I’ve always considered Parliament Square to be a missed opportunity in London. Until fairly recently it was an almost impossible to reach square of grass, surrounded by traffic with no way to reach it except putting your life at risk and hoping not to be run down as you dashed across in the gaps. Now at least there are several light-controlled crossings to the central area, though still not one at the most used and most needed crossing point at the corner leading to Parliament St.

As grass goes, for a country which invented the lawn mower and prides itself on the quality of its lawns, from the striped close-trimmed gardens of suburbia to the sacred turf of Lords, Parliament Square, at least as long as I’ve known it, has always been a disgrace. It starts by being badly drained, but has never had the kind of care it requires and probably suffers from the wrong kind of grass.

But for an area at the centre of a World Heritage Site, the whole area is wrong. Closing the roads along the south and west sides might be a good start, but it also needs some sensible landscaping, which could also replace or cover the ugly defences around Parliament, while providing equally effective protection. We should long ago have had a competition to redesign the square, probably including smaller areas of grass with larger paved areas where protests and celebrations could occur. Although given the official lack of any care for the grass the current fanatical attempts to prevent protests on it are nonsensical, if the area was improved it would be sensible to try and make it more robust.

On this occasion at least the police behaved sensibly and did nothing but keep an eye on things, despite what appeared to be a certain amount of jumping up and down from the ‘heritage wardens’.

I listened briefly to the wardens complaining to the police, thenspent some time talking with an officer at the corner of the square where a crossing is needed, near the statue of Churchill. It seemed the police had no worries about a few hundred people having a peaceful meeting on the grass, but did fear that there might be some who wanted to show their hatred for Churchill by desecrating his statue on the 50th anniversary of his death on 24 January 1965. Although many revere him for his inspirational leadership in the Second World War, there are others who cannot forgive his hostility to socialism and the 1926 General Strike, support for the Black and Tans in Ireland, anti-semitism and opposition to Indian independence and other policies.

The protest caused no trouble and dispersed peacefully, though by that time I was home and eating dinner. There are a few more pictures at Occupy defy GLA ban on Democracy.

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Trident Rally

March 3rd, 2015

Photographers sometimes complain that Jeremy Corbyn always closes his eyes when speaking. Well, not all the time

After the scarf and the short march (see ) came the rally in a fairly crowded Old Palace Yard opposite Parliament, and again CND had organised things fairly well for the press, with a reasonably uncrowded area between the crowd  and the fairly low stage. It was possible to move fairly freely around – although limited by the presence of other photographers and videographers.

It is mainly videographers that cause a problem for photographers, and on this occasion one that had set up a little way back and perhaps on too low a tripod and was then objecting to any photographers standing in line closer to the stage.  I suspect my bald patch appears in some parts of his video, though I tried hard not to obstruct his view of the speakers – and he could have avoided me by zooming more tightly. Mostly I think it is people who aren’t used to working in crowded areas like this who cause such problems.

In general still photographers cooperate well with each other; most of us try hard not to get in the way of those who get there before us, and work over their shoulder or to one side. One more recent problem is with those who now use backpacks and are often just not aware when these are rudely pushing against others. Shoulder bags can get in the way, but it’s more obvious as they tend to come off your shoulder.

There is a definite advantage to being tall and able to work over the heads of others – and often press photographers will bring step ladders with them. I’ve never bothered with carrying one around, though I have sometimes thought about using a folding stool which would give me a few more inches. There are some very light ones that wouldn’t be a great burden to carry.

Heather Wakefield, Unison’s Head of Local Government, Police and Justice

On this occasion, apart from that one videographer who was something of a pain, (and perhaps he will learn from the number of photographers who walked across his video)  it was fairly easy to move around and to get in something like the right place for photographing most of the speakers.

For me there are two main aspects to finding the right place, the placement and use of the microphone and the background. There isn’t one right place, as different speakers approach the microphone differently, some almost swallowing it, and others standing back. Usually I prefer to see a face unobstructed by the microphone, or, failing that, to see clearly most or all of the mouth. And eyes are often vital. Some people stand like statues as they speak, while others move and look around. Faces differ, and an angle that works with one speaker will not for others. Taking all your pictures from the same place would in any case be rather boringly repetitive – an easy trap to fall into.

CND veteran Bruce Kent

Backgrounds are often a problem, and this had a rather ugly roof over the stage which features in most of the images as I was working roughly from the level of the speakers feet. Mostly this is a little subdued by being out of focus, working at fairly wide apertures with fairly long lenses (mainly 100-300 mm, with the Nikon 18-105mm DX on the D800E and the Nikon 70-300 FX on the D700.) At the longer end it becomes hard to get enough depth of field on faces, and all too easy to autofocus by mistake on the microphone rather than the eyes. Sometime, when speakers make interesting gestures, you have a choice of whether the focus is on the hand or the eyes, and it’s one that the camera may make for you as you rapidly catch the moment. Some cameras have ‘face detection’ which might help – unless you want the hand sharp.

Julie Ward, Labour MEP for the North West of England

Mostly getting good images is about watching and being prepared to catch the moment. It’s only too easy to get the moment after, perhaps when the speaker’s eyes have closed or the pointing hand dropped half out of frame. Digital makes things easier by letting you know what you have taken – and this is one of the few times I actually sometimes look at the previews when I’m working – and sometimes delete images. The good thing is that most speakers repeat themselves, if not in what they say in what they do. If you fail to catch that glance up the first time you can be ready to do so later.

Lindsey German, Stop the War, waiting to speak

It’s also good to keep an eye on what else is happening on the platform. Sometimes the best pictures come before or after people speak – and on this occasion this was important for the background as well, enabling me to get away from that roof.  The picture of Lindsey German waiting to speak with a clear graphic behind her is far better than any I managed while she was speaking.

And of course the rally is more than the speakers (though pictures of well-known names are more likely to be used) but the audience may well be more interesting.

You can see some of my other attempts to photograph these and other speakers and people in the audience at CND Scrap Trident rally at Parliament.

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Wrapping up the MoD

March 1st, 2015

The start of the scarf passes in front of the MoD, held by Heather Wakefield of UNISON, Rebecca Johnson and CND Chair Kate Hudson

I don’t much like photographing the ‘big’ protests which attract a lot of media interest because things often get too crowded and too organised by stewards and police to make it possible to work as I like to do, and I was pleased to find that although CND’s ‘Scrap Trident’ protest was a decent size, it wasn’t like that at all. True, there were a lot of photographers present, but there weren’t any of the media scrums that make life unpleasant, and the stewards were helpful, doing their job and not getting in the way. Groups like ‘Stop the War‘ could learn a lot!

There were perhaps a couple of thousand protesters, though it wasn’t easy to count, as much of the time they were rather spread out, so it was a decent size for a protest. Perhaps surprising there were not more, since there are few people who aren’t politicians or have shares in companies who might benefit from spending huge amounts on weapons systems that will never be use who don’t feel that the huge sums of money involved in replacing the UK’s Trident missiles is a waste of money – that, as the placards at the protest said, would be better spent on Education, the NHS or, well, almost anything.

Our independent nuclear deterrent has for many years been fictional, a very minor part of the US nuclear deterrent; we maintain the fiction to keep the place in some interenational bodies as a ‘nuclear power’. Other countries which have nuclear weapons – like Israel – prefer to keep quiet about them, so haven’t got invited, and North Korea didn’t get an invite after testing one (perhaps because our intelligence services know it was one of three designed in Israel, assembled in South Africa, shipped to Oman in a covert UK goverment operation supervised by Dr David Kelly and then stolen by a Zimbabwean arms dealer who sold it on the black market – or am I just reading too many conspiracy theories?) Perhaps we should just spread some stories around about Trident having been given a new lease of life and use the money for something useful.

A woman with a vintage ‘No More Hiroshimas’ placard that her mother had carried to Aldermaston on the first march in 1958

Back to real life, the protest did raise some problems. How does one photograph a scarf wrapping around four sides of the block containing the Ministry of Defence, around 0.7 miles in length? The answer has to be in rather small lengths, as otherwise it just gets too small to see. But you also need a longer view to show it really is a long piece of knitting.

I’d previously photographed a much longer length of this knitted peace scarf, around ten times as long, stretched out between the UK’s two atomic bomb factories in the Berkshire countryside, Aldermaston and Burghfield. I’d gone on a bicycle and ridden along the length and back, taking pictures of the scarf being put into place, and then after it was joined up, run along beside part of it taking picutres for the 15 or 20 minutes that people held it up – and it had worked out quite well.

But this was different, with the scarf being carried around by the protesters walking around the block. I started by photographing people as they gathered for the protest, including a faith group who started from a service at St Martin’s in the Fields before marching down Whitehall with a shorter length of scarf to join the rest of the protesters. It wasn’t quite clear what time they would be leaving, so I’d asked my wife who was with them to phone me when they were coming out of the church. She did, but it was fairly noisy where I was photographing and I missed her call, but decided I would go up and take a look and arrived in time for a few pictures before they started off.

For the wrapping of the block, I started with the leaders at the front of the scarf, who walked together with several banners, setting off at a rate that the people joining up lengths of scarf behind them couldn’t catch up. Working at first fairly close to them so that I could show their faces and read the messages in the piece of knitting they had chosen to lead the event, as they passed the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall I drew back a little to get a more general view of the banners in front of the building.

I stayed there to take more pictures as others went past, though it proved impossible to get a good clear view from a distance to show a really long line, as there were so many tourists and others walking along the pavement in front of the scarf. It wasn’t entirely satisfactory as you can see my shadow in every image. Then I ran in the direction the scarf was going, hoping to get some pictures including the Houses of Parliament – and particularly Big Ben – in the background.  There were two problems here. Firstly because of the direction the scarf was being carried around, coming up Bridge St if I could see Big Ben I was looking at the backs of the heads of the protesters, which seldom makes for good pictures.

In the past I’ve sometimes managed to photograph people walking in this direction in front of Big Ben by working close to the corner where they turn into Victoria Embankment, working close to them and with a very wide angle. That didn’t work very well either, partly because most of the marchers were walking between me and the scarf and the scarf wasn’t very visible, partly because of the many tourists in a rather small space with the marchers, but mainly because the sun was shining directly into the camera lens.

I tried working in the realatively small area of shadow thrown by the tower of Big Ben, but still couldnt get what I wanted. I did manage to take a few pictures on or close to the corner with my back towards the Houses of Parliament, but by the time I’d moved a little down the street to where the Houses of Parliament were visible behind the scarf the sun was shining in my lens again.

I rushed on to photograph a part of the long line of marchers going past the long frontage of the Ministry of Defence on this site, managing to find a length of scarf with a decent number of people carrying placards as well as the scarf. When the scarf came to the Ministry it had turned around in the gardens in front and then gone back along the fence at the back of the gardens, just a few feet from the wall of the building so another long row, but less interesting and again the light was causing a little of a problem. Cloudy days often make life easier for photographers.

The front of the scarf had stopped where it started, just past the main entrance to the Ministry, and there was then a period of waiting for all those around the block to make their way around and come together again, and for most of the knitting to be rolled up again.  Finally it was time to set up for the short march down Whitehall and past the front of the House of Commons to end up at Old Palace Yard for a rally.

I did get a  picture as they walked past Parliament with Big Ben to show it, though it wasn’t one of my better examples.  You can see more pictures at ‘Wrap Up Trident’ surrounds Defence Ministry and Christian CND against Trident Replacement
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2015 PDN Top 30

February 28th, 2015

If you want to be featured in PDN’s Top 30 your best bet is either to be born in the USA or to go and live there, as do I think all but about six of this year’s crop (and two of that six are in Vancouver, which only around 30 miles over the border.) Having said that, there is still much interesting photography, and, perhaps unsurprisingly some of the more interesting is from those four more distant. Give yourself plenty of time and go and enjoy.

Rather than otherwise influence you on the work of this years pick I thought it would be interesting to revisit the Top 30 of ten years ago, 2005, and begin by asking how many of those featured you have heard of. It’s hard to be entirely sure, but for me I think the answer perhaps five or six, but most seem to be having succesful careers if not becoming household names:

Kevin Cooley
Cig Harvey
Mark Zibert
Andrew Zuckerman
Christa Renee
Matt Stuart
Jesse Chehak
Eri Morita
Farah Nosh
Chris Mueller
Eric Ogden
Joao Canziani
Colby Katz
Dave Anderson
Jehad Nga
Erik Almas
Jessica Todd Harper
Hayley Harrison
Karine Laval
Steve Giralt
Casper Dalhoff
Emily Nathan
Carlos Rios
Matthew Pillsbury
William Mebane
Masood Kamandy
Kareem Black
William Lamson
Gina Levay
Karim Ben Khelifa

I’ve also tried to link them to their current web sites, though there may in some cases be confusion with other photographers of the same name. Two presented a problem – I couldn’t find a site for Hayley Harrison and although there are many links to work by Khalim Ben Khelifa I could not find an actual web site. And be warned that even on a high-speed broadband connection some of these sites are slow to load. Too many still have huge flash downloads.

This year’s crop give a little advice to others on the web site, and I’d like to add another small piece of possible wisdom. If you want to be remembered as a photographer, choose a good and memorable name. If like me you have a very common name it will not help in your career. And simply because you were blessed by your parents with something simple shared by thousands of others there is no reason to use that as your professional name.

I share my name with at least three other photographers (a confusion that has led to me being refused credit by one photography retailer and threats of bodily harm by an extremist right-wing organisation – I’m not sure what it has done for the other guys), a very well known preacher and his son, various sporting heroes (I don’t even swim or squash and gave up footy long since), the author of some great books, a journalist and  acouple of radio and TV personalities, a police chief, several professors, a breeder of ferrets and thousands more.

Somewhat surprisingly if I put my name into Google (I don’t make a habit of vanity searching, but have just done so as ‘research’ for this post) I find I come up in 14th, 17th and 24th position underneath two featured posts and some images, none of which are of me. On going to Google Images and searching well down the page I do find myself twice, as well as 38 taken by me, among the seven or eight hundred featured. They seem to include a couple of copyright violations, though I think neither worth chasing.

Je Suis Chaleroi?

February 27th, 2015

A new controversy has emerged from the latest World Press Photo, with exception being taken to the winning entry, The Dark Heart of Europe, by Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo in Contemporary Issues Stories. There are 10 images from the story at the WPP and a dozen on the photographer’s own web site, under the title Charleroi, La Ville Noire – The Dark Heart of Europe, which omits several in the WPP selection.

In this case the complaint is not about the processing of the images, though some might feel this is at least a touch over-dramatised, but about staging and the false image they give of the city, whose mayor Paul Magnette, while professing not to be and expert in photography complains that the story is anything but photojournalism, hiding aspects and distorting reality through staged images.

In his letter the mayor goes on to repeat some of the criticisms of the work raised immediately after the award by Belgian photographer Thomas Vanden Driessche who is quoted on the web site OAI13 (Our Age is 13):

L’utilisation de la mise en scène, l’éclairage artificiel mais surtout le caractère falsifié et mensonger des légendes participe à la construction de cette fiction prenant les apparences d’un reportage. Cela ne me causerait aucun souci si cet ensemble était le résultat d’une œuvre artistique très personnelle. Mais le photographe ne présente pas son travail comme tel. Au contraire, il donne manifestement une réelle dimension journalistique/documentaire à son approche. Le simple fait que cette série a été soumise au World Press Photo et surtout le fait qu’elle ait été primée lui confère une crédibilité journalistique.

Driessche is saying that staging, the artificial lighting and above all the false and lying captions result in the making of a fictional story in what appears to be reportage. This would not worry him in a personal artistic work, but this is not how the photographer has presented it. On the contrary he clearly presents it as a journalistic/documentary story and submitted it as such to World Press Photo who have given it credibility as journalism by giving it the prize.

The mayor’s letter, reproduced in part on the same site gives some details about who and what appear in some of the images, arguing that the reality they show is very different to the story implied by the photographer through the highly stylised images and deceptive captioning, ending his letter by stating that the photographer has deformed reality for the sake of a story which discriminates against the city of Charleroi, its people and the profession of photojournalism. He says that you will not find a single person living in the city who would recognise it from the story, and that is seems to be more a settling of grudges than investigative reporting.

Time Lightbox’s report of the story includes some translations of the comments in the mayor’s letter and includes a statement from WPP:

“We are currently verifying the facts behind the photo story, as we do with all the prizewinning pictures, and we are in touch with the photographer Giovanni Troilo.”

Of course, if photographers and journalists are doing their job properly they will often offend some people. Few organisations welcome any critical investigation, as many people, particularly whistleblowers, have found to their cost. For those of us who have no knowledge of Charleroi (and I imagine few of us have heard of it before this, let alone been there) we have only the opposing views and the nature of the photographs to inform us.

Photography cannot exist without a point of view, though in much we see that may well be a rather confused one. The strength of Troilo’s work which led to its success is in the clarity of his view and the dramatic way he has presented it. We all have to dramatise the situations we photograph, to give them some form in order to communicate with an audience.

For many photographers, the guiding principle was stated clearly by one of the legends, W Eugene Smith in his credo “Let truth be the prejudice”. Perhaps in this case truth may have given way to prejudice. It will be interesting to see what WPP responds.

Flashing Flashers

February 26th, 2015

I’d missed the post on PetaPixel in January on the development of a novel range of ‘Anti- Papparazzi’ Clothing, but apparently some items – a scarf and a hoodie – will shortly be available.

The idea of highly reflective clothing that will reflect the flash back and thus trick cameras into severely underexposing will perhaps foil a few less experienced photographers, but it is hardly a novel concept, as many of us have been photographing police and others wearing fluorescent jackets with reflective strips for many years.  They are often a pain, but they don’t usually make photography impossible. In most cases you can tame those highlights enough with a little work in Lightroom. And if you do work on auto-exposure the reduction in exposure from the light reflected back is a good thing, as it helps to prevent burnt-out highlights. With cameras like the D800E (or the Fuji XT-1) you can pull an awful lot out of the shadows without problems.

I’m not a ‘pap’, but DJ Chris Holmes’s introductions would probably have little effect on my pictures. Apart from often shooting flash on manual to get more consistent exposures, I’m also using flash less and less for working at night.

Firstly because digital cameras are getting so much better at high ISO, and I often work at ISO3200, but also because to avoid black backgrounds and the flattened look of direct flash I usually work at and aperture and shutter speed where pictures get considerable exposure from ambient light, with flash mainly helping to bring out the subject a little.

But it is perhaps also an idea that has come too late with the increasing use of bright LED light sources. While still more commonly used for movies, increasingly still photographers are making use of them. Tonight – like last night – I’ll be working with one on the D700 and keeping the flash on the D800E. Partly this is because the flash has a longer range, and I’ll be using the 18-105mm on the D800E, often from a longer distance. but its also because my ageing D700 has become rather unreliable with flash.

The Neewer CN 216 LED unit I’m using isn’t perfect, and even though it has a diffuser, doesn’t cover a particularly wide angle of view, and is not really quite as bright as I would like. I could I suppose write a proper review, but if anyone is interested they are cheap enough for you to buy one on eBay and play with it yourself.

Salted Paper Prints

February 25th, 2015

Paris Xe, 1988 Salt Print – Peter Marshall

To coincide with the opening of Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860  at Tate Britain, here is a slightly updated version of a piece I wrote some years ago on salt prints, including step-by-step instructions on making them and four examples of my own efforts from the late 1980s.

Key Facts

  • ‘Photogenic drawing’ used ordinary paper which had been given a coating of silver chloride or similar light-sensitive silver salt.
  • Prints were made by placing objects on this paper and exposing to light. In the 20th century this way of working was named as a ‘photogram’.
  • Photogenic drawing was a printing out process – the image actually appeared during the exposure to light.
  • Photogenic drawing can also be used as a method for contact printing from negatives – prints made in this way are known as salted paper prints or salt prints.
  • Contact printing requires the negative to be held in close contact with the printing paper, usually in a special printing frame, while being exposed to light through the negative.
  • Exposure times in salt printing vary from around 10 minutes to 8 hours depending on the strength of the light source and how transparent (or translucent) the negative material is.
  • As with all contact processes, the print is obviously the same size as the negative.
  • Talbot fixed his images by using strong salt (sodium chloride) solution, or a weak potassium iodide solution. Neither was totally effective.
  • Later, Herschel’s suggestion of hypo (sodium thiosulphate) as fixer was adopted. This was fast and totally effective.
  • By repeating the sensitising process several times, Talbot found he could increase the speed of the salted paper sufficiently to use in a camera obscura.
  • Typical exposure times in the ‘camera obscura’ were around 30 minutes, with apertures probably around f8 in modern terms.
  • The paper negatives were fixed and then often made translucent by treatment with wax or oil before being placed on top of a fresh sheet of sensitised paper and contact printed using sunlight as the light source. Typical printing times would be around 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Although rapidly superseded for use in the camera by the Calotype process, the basic salted paper print was the normal process for photographic prints on paper until replaced by the albumen print around 1850.
  • After 1855, salted paper remained in use mainly as a proofing medium and by a few who preferred its matte image. It saw a revival in the 1980s and 1990s as a part of a growing interest in historical and alternative processes

Talbot’s method

  1. Talbot started with a sheet of best quality writing paper ‘with a good firm quality and smooth surface’.
  2. This was dipped it into a weak solution of common salt and then wiped dry
  3. The sheet was then coated on one side with a weak solution of silver nitrate (a saturated solution diluted with six to eight times the amount of water) and dried in front of a fire.

The paper was then ready for use for making photogenic drawings or as Talbot more poetically wrote ‘nothing can be more perfect than the images it gives of leaves and flowers, especially with a summer sun : the light passing through the leaves delineates every ramification of their nerves.’

A more modern version of this procedure is still used by those photographers today who wish to make salted paper prints – also known as salt prints – see below for directions.

For use in the camera, the speed of the material needed to be increased. Talbot found he could do this basically by repeating the treatment. He first washed the prepared paper with a saturated solution of salt, and dried it. Tested at this stage it was more or less insensitive to light, but if re-brushed with ‘a liberal quantity of the solution of silver’, it became more sensitive than before.

By repeating the coating several times, it would become fast enough for use in the camera (though his exposures might be 30 minutes.) Talbot obviously found the process rather unpredictable, noting that sometimes the paper would begin to darken without any exposure to light, showing the process had been taken too far.

After each coating with silver, he clipped a small part from each of the sheets he was working with, numbering them carefully to correspond to the sheet, and ‘placed (them) side by side in a very weak diffused light for about a quarter of an hour.’ If one of them darkened considerably, the corresponding sheet was ready to be exposed in the camera obscura. It was a crude but effective system of control for a process where there were too many variables to guarantee success by simply following a given procedure.

Talbot’s results

Looking at Talbot’s early results from the camera – or rather at reproductions of them – it is not surprising that they were generally not regarded highly compared to the splendidly sharp and detailed daguerreotypes. In some cases it is hard to see any image at all, others are more weak splodges than detailed pictures. His first existing negative shows a window made of small panes, and on the back he notes that it was possible to count them all when it was first made. Presumably it was no longer possible when he made the note. The image is certainly not now highly detailed and the shadows in particular are completely empty.

Although the photogenic drawings – made as what we now call ‘photograms’, by placing objects such as leaves and lace on the paper – have considerable elegance and are finely delineated, his early camera attempts can only be seen as suggestions that it might be possible to get the process to work rather than as a successful solution. It was a problem that Talbot was to solve himself in the following years with the Calotype process.

The major problem was of inadequate sensitivity to light. These first photographic materials relied entirely on the printing out of the image, which is slow. In the Calotype, Talbot made use of what became to be called a developer to amplify the effect of the light, bringing out the ‘latent image’ from the apparently unchanged paper. It was this discovery that was really to lead to the domination of the next 160 years of photography by silver based materials.

Another aspect of the problem that Talbot faced was inadequate fixation. After exposure he either washed the paper with a dilute solution of potassium iodide or a strong solution of common salt before ‘wiping off the superfluous moisture, and drying it.’ The potassium iodide solution formed silver iodide that was largely insensitive to light, but too strong a solution would dissolve parts of the image. As he had found in his repeated coating, using a large excess of salt solution produces a very low light sensitivity. However images fixed in these ways still faded in light – and certainly the bright sun needed to expose through the paper negative will have also caused fading of the negative.

When Talbot visited Herschel at Slough on 1 February 1839, he received a solution to the problem. Herschel’s wife, Margaret, noted in a letter to a friend that ‘when something was said about the difficulty of fixing the pictures, Herschel said “Let me have this one for a few minutes” and after a short time he returned and gave the picture to Mr Fox Talbot saying “I think you’ll find that fixed” – this was the beginning of the hyposulphite plan of fixing.’

It was also Herschel who provided a clue – in the shape of gallic acid – that was to be the key to Talbot’s discovery of the latent image and development in the Calotype. There are many of us who have made prints using salted paper and even a handful of photographers currently using the Calotype process – some have used actors to recreate Talbot’s later pictures at Lacock Abbey. The recreation of images in camera obscura using his methods, and making prints from these again following his directions would perhaps be an interesting project. It is the only way any of us can possibly see these kind of images in the same condition as when Talbot made them.

Make your own Salt Prints

Montreuil, Paris, 1988 © Peter Marshall, 1988.
Gold toned salt print on Georgian Watercolor Paper.

Ordinary writing paper is now factory produced and no longer of suitable quality for any of the alternative processes. Machine made papers generally have shorter fibres and fall to pieces readily when wet, and you need to use a suitable hand or mould-made paper, usually sold for use in watercolour painting.

Silver nitrate needs to be handled with care – you should use gloves and wear safety glasses. When handling any finely ground chemical powder a mask should be worn. Silver nitrate is a poison that can build up in the body and it can both burn and stain skin. It produces stains and marks that are often very difficult to remove from some surfaces.

Like all chemicals, both solid and solutions should be kept in a secure place, locked away from possible reach of children. Silver nitrate solutions are sensitive to light and are normally stored in brown bottles, but it also helps to keep them in a cupboard.

Procedures normally give precise quantities required for solutions measured in grams. However, there is seldom any real need for great accuracy, and many people have made salt prints without using any weighing equipment. Chemicals such as silver nitrate will generally be bought in fairly small quantities and you can make up the full amount into an appropriate solution.

  • You can use ordinary table salt or sea salt, making up a solution of roughly 1-2 ounces (25-50g) per litre of water.

Other salts, which some people prefer, include ammonium chloride, potassium citrate, potassium tartrate and potassium bromide. You will often get small differences in image colour and paper speed using the different salts or mixtures of them.

  • The silver nitrate solution is generally around 10-12% by weight – so you can dissolve 7g (1/4 oz) in around 60ml of water.

I’ve used a range of watercolour papers, including Waterford Hot Pressed which was possibly my favourite, along with Rowney’s Georgian. Some other papers give better results if coated with a dilute gelatin solution and left to dry before use – this is called ‘sizing’ – but Waterford works well without. Most watercolour papers are already sized when you buy them, and extra sizing is often not needed. You will get good results with most papers.

You also need a brush to coat the paper with – a wide, thin brush is best. Japanese hake brushes which do not have metal ferrules are probably the best, as the silver solution corrodes metal.

Salt printing is a contact printing process and you need a negative the same size as your print is to be. Unless you have a large format camera you may like to follow Talbot’s examples and start work with photograms, using materials such as leaves or lace etc. If you do have a large format camera, take a picture specially and try doubling your normal development time as you need a much higher maximum density than normal for salt prints. You can also work by printing large negatives with an inkjet printer, preferably on to acetate film designed for inkjet use. Prints on paper do work – better on thin paper – but exposure times are much longer. You can also work with negative prints made on photographic paper.

Talbot used the sun for his exposures, which meant the times he could work in England were limited. Unless you are blessed with a sunnier climate you may want to find another light source. You need something which is strong in ultraviolet, such as a tanning bed – or you can buy or make special light sources using mercury lamps or UV fluorescent tubes similar to those in sunbeds.

A printing frame is needed to hold the negative in contact with the paper. You can buy or make these, but a sheet of plate glass and a card or ply backing board with some rubber bands round will do (for large prints the weight of the glass is enough to ensure contact.) These were once cheap photo accessories, and small sizes (such as 5″x4″) can still be found cheap in junk shops. I had a good look at an expensive hand-made version, particularly the price-tag, took out a pencil and designed my own, which took about an hour to make. Precision freaks will want a vacuum frame!

St Denis, 1988, © Peter Marshall, 1988. Gold toned salted paper print.

Step by Step Instructions

Making a salt print

      1. Tear or cut the sheets of paper to the size required – you need at least a one-inch margin around your negative. Mark the top side of the paper on each piece.
      2. Make up the salt solution, soak the paper in it for 2-3 minutes at room temperature or slightly above, gently brushing each side while under the solution to remove any air bubbles. Lift out, drain and hang to dry, putting down newspaper if necessary to catch the drips. Paper treated in this way can be used as soon as it has stopped dripping or dried and used weeks or months later.
      3. Tape the salted paper top side up to a board. Put the negative on top and mark the position of its corners lightly with pencil.
      4. In dim room lighting (away from sun and fluorescent lights), pour a few ml of silver nitrate into a small beaker or dish. Dip the tip of the brush in, and spread left to right across the paper making sure to cover the marked area. Keep the brush wet. Repeat using a series of top to bottom strokes. Try to get the surface of the paper evenly wet all over, but without any pools of solution. Don’t return any excess the solution to the bottle; add a little more to it to coat the next sheet. Leave horizontal until any liquid on the surface has been absorbed, then hang to dry in a dark place. Use gentle heat from a hair-dryer if you are in a hurry to get on.
      5. Put your negative on top of the dry prepared paper, matching its corners to your pencil marks. Unless you have a proper hinged-back printing frame, secure it to the paper down one edge using crystal clear transparent tape, making sure this does not go over any of the image area. Check you have the negative the correct way up. Put under the glass or in your printing frame.
      6. Typical exposure time needed is 10 minutes in bright sun, but you can remove it from the light and peel back the negative slightly to inspect the image. Take care not to move the negative – this is where a proper hinged-back printing frame is a great advantage. Expose until the highlight detail is slightly darker than you want it – the shadow areas will normally seem too dark, but will lose some density on processing. Paper negatives may take several hours, particularly in winter.
      7. In dim light, remove the paper from the printing frame and put into a tray of water – preferably use distilled or purified water for the first rinse. Use gloves and be careful how you dispose of this first rinse in particular as it will contain most of the silver nitrate. If possible it should be added to your normal waste fixer for recycling. Later rinses will have much lower silver content. Agitate for about a minute before pouring off, and repeat several times (using tap water for these later rinses.)

Paris XIIe, © Peter Marshall, 1988. Gold toned salt print.

      1. If your image is successful, you may wish to gold tone at this stage. Prints with developed edges are often trimmed to avoid waste of gold toner. You will find instructions for gold toning in books dealing with alternative photographic processes. As you may expect, it adds considerable expense. Gold toning was a later development not use by Talbot. I’d suggest you leave it until you have gained some experience in the process. Gold toning changes the image colour (not always for the better) and improves image stability.
      2. For prints that can be displayed and last, you should fix using hypo.If you are interested in following Talbot’s methods, you will find his instructions in various sources, including Beaumont Newhall’s ‘Photography: Essays and Images‘. Talbot does not appear to have washed his early prints either before or after ‘fixing’. For prints that will last longer, fix using a solution of 25 gm (1 ounce) of hypo crystals in 500ml of water with a pinch of soda (sodium carbonate) added. You can also use normal print fixer, diluted perhaps twice as much as usual, but this will alter image colour more and also remove more of the highlights. Fix for up to 5 minutes, keeping a careful watch on the highlights and remove the print and wash immediately if these start to disappear.
      3. Wash for around an hour in occasional changes of water and then hang to dry.


Various books have been written with methods for making salted paper prints in the more than one hundred and sixty years since they were introduced.

Henry H. Snelling‘s 1849 volume ‘The History And Practice Of The Art Of Photography‘ is subtitled ‘The Production Of Pictures Through The Agency Of Light’ and claims to contain ‘all the instructions necessary for the complete practice of the Daguerrean and Photogenic Art, both on metalic, plates and on paper’ (sic), and is well worth downloading from the web if you want to experiment further. Snelling more or less copies the details given by Talbot for making salted paper, but does add a number of further details.

The year after this was published saw the publication by Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard of his work using albumen. This was an idea first proposed by an anonymous contributor to ‘The Athenaeum’ in May 1839 but Blanquart-Evrard was the first to put forward a practical method that contained the chlorides in the albumen. Albumen rapidly replaced salt printing as the normal photographic print because of its greater brilliance and depth of tone, and remained the dominant print medium until 1895 (finally going out of production in 1929.)

All paper prints in the first ten years of photography were salted paper prints, but after around 1855 it was probably mainly used for proofing. However, modern salted paper prints that I have made are a good match in terms of colour and tonal range to many matte prints from the 1850s (and later) identified in collections as ‘albumen prints’ and although it is possible to make matte albumen prints I suspect these are relatively scarce. If a print is matte, made before 1885, and does not have yellowed highlights it is highly probably that it is a salted paper print, whatever the curator’s label.

Many later photographic books also had instructions for salt printing and other early printing methods, but they were dropped out of most photographic textbooks by the 1930s. One of the best known from this period, ‘Photography, Theory and Practice‘ the English edition of ‘La Technique Photographique’ by L P Clerc, contains details of this and other by then obsolete processes such as albumen printing.

If you are interested in older processes and practices, you will find books such as the 1911 ‘Cassell’s Cyclopaedia of Photography‘ enthralling. I find it a useful source of information particularly for its many line drawings and learn something new every time I pick it up. However the older chemical nomenclature and weights and measures do make life a little trying at times, and there are some procedures suggested which bear no relation to common sense let alone health and safety procedures. Almost every page deserves a health warning. It lists salted paper under one of its alternative names, Plain Paper.

The best modern source of information on the whole area is ‘The Albumen & Salted Paper Book’ by James M Reilly mentioned above. First published in 1979 and long out of print it is now available in full on line – a generous gesture from the author. It really tells you everything you could wish to know.

The same year saw the publication of William Morgan’s ‘The Keepers of Light’, which remains a key text for those interested in older processes and is available secondhand. Since then a number of other books have also appeared which cover alternative processes in detail. Although some of these have excellent articles and illustrations on salt printing, there is nothing essential in them that is not available in the earlier works.

There are also a number of on-line resources, including the alternative processes mailing list and a number of fine web sites – too many for me to list or spend the time reviewing – just search on Google.

Materials for the processes can be hard to come by in but can be found online at specialist dealers, including Bostick & Sullivan and Photographers Formulary in the USA and Silverprint in the UK. Many articles on alternative processes have appeared over the years in various photographic magazines, and there have been independently produced magazines dedicated to alternative processes in both the UK (now defunct) and the USA.

Salt Prints

February 24th, 2015

Vivandière (French cantinière)  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. with Fenton’s crop marks

It was back in the 1980s that I got briefly into salt printing (more on that here), around 140 years after W H F Talbot showed us the way (possibly picking up the idea from Sir Humprey Davy) in 1839, and with his ‘The Pencil of Nature‘ (1844 to 1846) published the first major printed work incorporating a number of them with his ideas.  I wrote briefly about the salt print process back in the 1990s, and published a revised version in the following decade with my own illustrations. I’ll try and find it and republish, but the truly definitive work on the process, Reilly, James M. The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895. Light Impressions Corporation. Rochester, 1980, is available free on-line for those who want full details.

Its a process you can read about in most if not all the histories of photography, and there are many manuals available in print and on-line to tell you how to do it apart from the Reilly book mentioned.  In some it will be called ‘plain paper’ printing or just ‘silver’ printing and it was performed in the 1840s and 50s making use of ordinary writing or drawing paper of the age, which was first coated or soaked in a salt solution (sometime common cooking salt, sodium chloride, though other salts were also used) and then after having been dried, made light sensitive by floating on a bath of silver nitrate solution (or this could be brushed on.) The paper then had to be dried in dim light and exposed with as little delay as possible in contact with the negative in a printing frame in sunlight.

The papers used were only lightly ‘sized’ or coated with a material – usually gelatine or starch – and the solutions soaked into the paper, with the light sensitive silver chloride (or other silver salts) being embedded into the paper. Later photographers began to use more sizing or other materials to keep these salts on the surface which enabled a better tonal range. The most successful of these was albumen (egg white) and as well as making matt surface prints this also enabled prints to be given a glossy finish. It used to be a standard museum practice to label all early matt prints as salted paper and early glossy prints as albumen.

Many photographers continued to make their own salted paper into the early years of the twentieth century, with directions still being published in various manuals of the times, although by then there were many commercial alternatives. You could also buy papers that were ready salted and only needed the photographer to sensitise them, but there were also other alternatives for the photographer. In a 1910 issue of ‘The Photo-Miniature, the author writes “Twenty years ago, when photography was not a popular pastime but a mysterious hobby, a photograph could be only one definite thing, namely – a so-called silver or albumen print.” (This refers to albumen prints only, not to salted paper prints.) The title of the article ‘The Six Printing Processes‘ gives us some idea of how much things had then changed since 1890, although there were many other processes also in use by then, some dating back to the beginnings of photography such as the blueprint (aka cyanotype.)

I was reminded of all this while eating breakfast this morning by the Today programme which featured two people talking about Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 which opens to the public at Tate Britain tomorrow (25 February – 7 June 2015) with a claim to be the first exhibition in Britain devoted to salted paper prints. While this may be strictly true, many shows have included works from this period, many of which will have been salt prints, and other shows focussing on particular photographers or groups have been entirely of salt prints. But this is the first to be actually built around the process and while the show appears to include some well known works, it also brings out some less familiar.

The text also states “The few salt prints that survive are seldom seen due to their fragility, and so this exhibition, a collaboration with the Wilson Centre for Photography, is a singular opportunity to see the rarest and best early photographs of this type in the world.”  Silver is a fairly reactive metal and much of the early research into different printing methods was aimed at ways to prevent the fading of images, particularly from an age where the necessity for thorough washing of prints was not fully appreciated. I don’t think salt prints are rare, but examples from this early period, and particularly ones in good condition perhaps are. But prints by WHF Talbot regularly appear in auctions and even in recent years some have sold for well under £5000.  My own salt prints, now around 20 years old, are still looking much the same as when I made them, but may well not last 170 years. As to whether these are the best, you will perhaps have to visit the show to find out, although the works selected to display on the web site by Hill & Adamson, Talbot and Fenton are certainly not those I would have chosen.

Captain Andrews, 28th Regiment

There are two included in the  on the Tate web site by Talbot, and also two by Roger Fenton, who made both albumen and salted paper prints. There is a marvellous collection of 263 of his Crimean War pictures at the US Library of Congress,  which includes prints of the same two reproduced here. You can if you wish download high resolution TIFF files of these (Vivandière is called Cantiniére on the Tate page) and print out your own copies, either on an inkjet or, if you really wanted, convert to a negative to make your own real salt prints. It really isn’t too difficult!

Prince of Pilfering

February 22nd, 2015

I’ve never had a positive response to ‘appropriation art’. It’s always seemed to me parasitic rather than in any way symbiotic. A total lack of respect of the authorship of the work being appropriated combined with a false assertion of authorship by the appropriator.

Of course it’s OK to use work by other people, though if you do so in a direct and recognisable way you should clearly attribute this – and where appropriate pay for a licence for its use. I was quite happy recently when an artist wanted to use some of my pictures on some cushions she was making – and supplied her with files for the purpose. We came to an agreement and my contribution to the work is acknowledge; that’s how it should be, and others who have wanted to use my work in their own paintings and illustrations have made similar agreements over the years.

As for ‘appropriation‘ I think what has to say about it and about Prince’s ‘Instagram’ works is worth reading. Here’s just a couple of sentences from it:

Seen as most people access art today, in their social media feeds, Prince’s appropriations are visually indistinguishable from the original sources. The thing that separates them is celebrity and recognition within the contemporary art world/business framework.

One way that Prince went wrong was to pick as one of his steals from Instagram a work by photographer Donald Graham.  Obviously a very succesful and accomplished photographer (if not particularly to my taste), on his ‘Fine Art’ web site it tells us: “Donald Graham is an internationally recognized photographer with work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the International Center of Photography.”

While your average Instagram user might be flattered that Prince would re-use one of their images, someone who is already showing work in a museum context it likely to see it just as a rip-off. Unsurprisingly, as you can read in Hyperallergic‘s Photographer Sends Cease and Desist Letters to Richard Prince and Gagosian, Graham’s response is to go to law.

As the article states, Graham’s picture had been uploaded to Instagram not by the photographer himself, but by a third party,  Jay Kirton, who uploaded it without accreditation (and presumably without permission.) I presume that neither Prince nor his gallery, Gagosian bothered to check – by Google Image Search or other software – on the copyright status and ownership of the image. It appeared Hyperallergic‘s review of the show last October with the name of the poster rather than the photographer “appropriated from @rastajay92.

As I’ve pointed out before, (for example in it just isn’t practicable to prevent the unauthorised use of images on the web. It would take up the whole of any photographer’s life to police the usage of their images, and in most cases prove impossible to acheive any recompense. But where anyone is making large sums of money from your work, things are different.

Graham in October posted to Instagram about it (as you can read on Hyperallergic), and I imagine he may also have contacted the gallery without any satisfaction, but now his lawyer has sent “cease and desist” letters to Prince and the Gagosian Gallery. Perhaps it will go to court.

It isn’t the first time Prince has been taken to court, (and not even the first about images of Rastas) and although in at least one previous case an out of court settlement was finally reached with a photographer, generally Prince has been treated with inappropriate leniency by the courts. If there are people ignorant enough to pay over $40,000 for very large but rather dull reproductions from Instagram, the photographers who produced the original works on which Prince imprinted his own lack of originality deserve at least as much as him from them.