5 Frames in the Rain – Portra 160 in a Nikonos III – by David Hume

The day I made these shots I was woken up by surreal yellow light coming through the window of the shack.

We’ve stayed at this beach each summer for thirty or more years and I’d never seen this before. The early sunlight had snuck over the hills and hit some low cloud and drizzle before it bounced back towards us. At first I seriously thought something was wrong until I worked out what was going on. Of course I grabbed a camera but I was not really prepared – my Nikon F2 wasn’t loaded so I made a couple of frames on my daughter’s FE but I thought I’d missed the opportunity. Sure enough, by the time I’d put a film in the F2 the light had passed.

This not one of the five frames – it’s Portra 400 in my daughter’s Nikon FE at the tail end of the light I missed.

It doesn’t bother me now, but at the time it did. I really thought I’d stuffed up and I was cross with myself. I knew I’d missed the best of it and it would be weeks before I’d see if there was anything at all worthwhile on my daughter’s film.

Beach holidays are a good time for reflection, and that’s how it played out for me. Usually I’d check the light half an hour before sunrise but this day I missed it. I was disappointed because I’d missed what I saw as an opportunity to add to a body of coastal work – something that I considered important and serious because I might use it in an exhibition or a photo book or – let’s be realistic here – I might post it on Insta.

But then as the day wore on I lightened up a bit. I guess I could describe it as a “get over yourself, Dave,” moment. It brought home that I was overlooking why I like photography and what it’s really all about – the fun aspect. What’s the point if it’s not fun? So I decided to try and have fun.

Nikonos III and Nikon F2. Two functional beauties.

I took the film containing the missed light out of my Nikon F2 and put it in my Nikonos III. I’d shot maybe six frames on the F2 and while transferring the film to the Nikonos I screwed up again and trashed the first couple of frames on the roll. 

Oh well.  

So I just thought about having some fun and making some nice frames. I was thinking about composition and colour and tone. I started thinking about what would work on that roll. The clouds that had given us the rain in the morning were still around and we had warm intermittent rain. The light was nice and soft, and the sea was grey-green. I was shooting Portra 160 and I like the way the Portra renders this kind of green, so I thought I could get something interesting.

If you look at the little pincers on the distance scale you can see that at f11 everything from 1.7m to infinity should be okay for focus.

The Nikonos does not have a meter, so I figured that with the overcast conditions “Sunny 16” would become “Overcast 11” and if I shot at 1/125s and f11 I’d get a bit of movement in the raindrops and zone focussing would be pretty workable.

If you ever want to see how aperture and focal distance affect depth of field, then the Nikonos lenses are great. They have a really nifty scale on them that shows how it’s all related.

The Nikonos III is such a brilliant camera. I’ve never owned a Leica and if I get misty-eyed over an M3 I just slap myself and say “but you’ve got a Nikonos III.”  It’s beautiful, a masterpiece of design and a functional work of art. That viewfinder is something else too, and once you get used to the wierd-arse shutter/wind-on lever it’s great to use.

Charlie has an eye on the action.

Issie and Joe were going for a swim, and of course Charlie the handsome kelpie would come along with his tennis ball, so we were set.

Because the rain was hitting the water I started thinking about Japanese watercolours and how the Japanese artists rendered rain, and how that might work on film.

Issie and I have taken lots of photos collaboratively. It’s actually because of Issie that I started shooting film again after giving it up when digital became practical. I gave her my old FM body and she took it around the world a couple of times before it finally broke. We went on a trip to New Zealand three years ago and she was shooting film so I took some film as well and my return to film sort of took off from there I think.

She gets a bit cross with me if I try to direct her, but she was tolerant this day, and also directed some of the shots herself. From memory she wanted the shots facing the camera and I wanted the shots facing away, and we got some of each.

These shots are fun, but they are also thoughtful. The compositions are all pretty carefully considered. Nothing is pre-planned, but I was conscious of wanting a foreground and background, and I recall that for some reason I was also thinking in triangles.  

So the shots are about composition, tone, colour and rendering. But they’re also spontaneous. I had these ideas in mind but it’s not like they’re set up. The process was just switching on my brain, going with the situation and being part of it, remembering to pre-focus then moving and waiting and being ready to press the shutter at the right time. We shot half a roll and it took about ten minutes all-up. These needed to be shot on film – digital would not have given the same feeling. I think it’s important to work in empathy with your medium. And perhaps most importantly these shots are about having fun. The process involved a lot of crouching down and falling over when a wave hit and a fair bit of trying not to bang the camera on a rock, as well a great deal of throwing the tennis ball for Charlie.

So that’s that. When I got the film back I was pleased so I thought I’d share the story. Thanks for reading.

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9 thoughts on “5 Frames in the Rain – Portra 160 in a Nikonos III – by David Hume”

  1. David, I think so many of us have a similar story of missed opportunities when the moment and the light is magical. I can’t say I’ve been as accepting of my failures in those moments. What I tell myself is to remember and appreciate those moments that I have gotten. These images really create the sense that I am looking through your eyes at the precise moment you pressed the shutter. For a moment I am you. It is images like this that seem to freeze those special moments that sadly pass so quickly into the ocean of time. I have a certain melancholy upon viewing them because we each have special memories of times that are fleeting. Thanks for sharing your story and images. Film really can contain more than the sum of its parts.

    Seeing the shot from your daughters camera reminded me of one particular instance where I was successful in photographing an ephemeral light moment. We had been having lots of rain and the air was laden with moisture. As the sun was setting the light and the city took on an other worldly glow. I drove around town as a man possessed trying to photograph as many different locations and buildings as I could while it lasted. The group of shots may not be the most technically perfect but the feeling they exude is more than I ever could have hoped for. Thanks for reminding me to relax and not take myself or my equipment so seriously.

    1. Cheers Bill – thanks for your kind words and the lovely story. It has been nice for me to go over these photos and be taken back to this day; glad they resonated with you.

  2. David, nice shots. That first one of the clouds and light is really great for having acted in haste. As a series I’m sure they instantly return you to that time and place. The true magic of photography.

    I know that sense of losing spectacular light. Last year I made the stupid mistake of edging the lawn without safety glasses and paid for it with a rock to the left eye. No lasting damage, but it was terribly painful. As further punishment, that evening Nature provided the most unbelievable sunset, like one of those sickly sweet Thomas Kinkade paintings that mothers-in-law adore. I could barely see, or stand up, much less use a camera. Ah, missed opportunities. I’m still slightly disappointed in myself. And you can bet I’ll never garden without goggles again.

    1. Cheers. To this day I’m meticulous about wearing glasses while lawn mowing because my grandmother’s brother lost an eye from a piece of wire thrown up by a mower. As a young child this this really made an impression on me; I’m not so sensible in all areas of personal safety.

  3. A nice tale of the moments and medium we use to capture life Dave. I’m particularly captured by the shots of Charlie running and the one of your daughter with her back to you. I’ve not tried Portra film yet, but these hues are very appealing.

    Empathy for the medium is a great take on what I view as a pretty philosophical process, and can apply to digital equally – the coastlines of the world definitely enhance a carefree vibe.

    Cheers for sharing.

    1. Cheers Wes – yes, I agree re dig/film and empathy. I’m seeing what I can learn from each medium and how it informs the other. I’ve been shooting the coast with each recently and have been playing around with the results along side one another. I do like Portra; I think it’s very forgiving and the scans I get from the lab are nice with minimal adjustment. Thanks for your comments.

  4. My Nikonos V is the camera that produced my best camera advice ever, if you want great photos use a waterproof camera because you will never be afraid to take it with you.

  5. My dad was an avid diver growing up and the Nikonos III was the only camera he owned until I went off to art school to study photography and he passed it on to me. That camera went everywhere. Every family vacation, every hike in the mountains, and every trip on the boat. I remember being carried on his shoulders, looking down at him taking pictures while I was up there. He never carried a meter and most often shot slide film and his exposures were always on point. I am an ex commercial photographer (bailed when digital killed the daily rate) and just continued to shoot film as an art. I have been teaching high school film photography for the past 16 years now with an 18 enlarger darkroom. I am the luckiest guy in the world. I own around 50 film cameras including the Nikonos and many Medium and large format cameras as well. If I had to pick one 35mm camera, it would be a tough choice. The Nikonos would probably win from a utilitarian standpoint, but my Nikon F2as, Minox 35, and Olympus OM1 are all favs. I totally agree with you about it being the best rangefinder, but that Leica is the last 35 that I do not own… And the prices now are ridiculous!!! So the Nikonos it is ????

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