Philosophy & Reflections

Sharing my Failures – Lost Frames from Amsterdam – by Simon King

November 22, 2018

I recently spent some time in Amsterdam, nothing work related just a short escape from the city. I was joined with fellow photographer David Babaian which was great because I hate travelling alone. During my time there I walked around most of the city, exploring the various avenues and canals for potential photographs.

I was shooting at the time on my Minolta XD and Leica M4, although I ended up using the XD for the majority of the time due to having loaded the M4 with slow speed film which wasn’t suited to the low light environment.

However I didn’t realise that my exposure compensation lever was stuck at minus one, meaning that my 400 speed I had rated at 800 was actually being exposed at 1600.

Starting from my very first frame at St Pancras International through to my last; severely underexposed.

I shot a few rolls through the Minolta and only one through the M4, so when I came to review my images I was appalled to learn my mistake. I had very few useable results overall which is a shame because I really did manage to catch some gems while I was there.

Leica M4, Kodacolour 200

On our last night David and I met with a Netherlands based photographer Bas Hordijk, who has an exceptionally quick approach to framing and capturing his street scenes. Wandering around with him I shot some great images through restaurant windows, across the canal of a biker who’s umbrella matched closely with the scenery, and a few atmospheric rainy images.

All were lost due to my incompetence and sheer stupidity through not thinking to check my exposure settings against anything the others were shooting. I blindly trusted my meter and was heartbroken at the result.

However I think this story is important to share even without a decent set of images to accompany it. I often write about my successes and accomplishments with analog film – which even after a few months is a new and evolving medium for my photography. This failure/series of failures is a good balance to that success, which is often not seen or shared by photographers who would rather focus on their highlights, only revealing to the world their absolute best work, which can sometimes misrepresent the number of missed or broken frames along the way.

I think it’s good to remember that no one starts out with their life’s work in hand; that every photograph must be earned through trial and error, whether that occurs as practice beforehand or failure in the field.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the images in this article which did turn out correctly exposed. If you enjoy my work here then please consider following my instagram, or heading over to my personal blog where you can read more of my thoughts and stories about my photography.

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  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    November 23, 2018 at 3:45 am

    Thank you for your post. It was timely for me. I attended observations & services at The Viet Nam Memorial in Washington DC on 11/11/18.
    In my haste to reload my M4-P, I misaligned the film, but I was unaware of the mistake at the time. After shooting about 45 frames on a 36 exp. roll of HP-5, it dawned on me that something might be amiss. 36 pictures without the film moving through the camera. Damn! I made the mistake, I blame myself and I just re-loaded a fresh roll, and continued to work.
    We need to do this every once & awhile. It reminds us we’re human, we make mistakes, and it can knock our ego back down a few pegs. It just stings to loose any shots.
    I’m a fan of Moderian, so I really like your shot of the multi-colored roof over the pedestrian walkway.

    • Reply
      November 23, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that; I hope that the images you ended up with from the correctly loaded roll made up for it! And thank you, I’m glad you liked it!

  • Reply
    Daniel Fjäll
    November 23, 2018 at 5:34 am

    I think we can all relate to this. Ironically enough I get better exposed shots on a roll when estimating the appropriate settings rather than depending on a built in lightmeter. You only need to expose for where you want the most important details to show in a picture. It can get tricky to understand how the meter in a camera works. Try guesstimating the settings before the lightmeter tells you the numbers. It would’ve been helpful to have an idea in this case. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      November 23, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      I agree, and will usually try and estimate for well lit scenes – however in very low light at night, with only neon and streetlights estimation for a specific area becomes very difficult for me; definitely something I’ll need to practice more!

  • Reply
    November 23, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    I could never understand how people made a mistake in developing black and white film. I’ve been developing black and white film for 36 years, and listened to mate’s accounts of muck-ups. I just couldn’t understand how anyone could make such a fundamental error…… Then after 36 years of processing film, I took one roll of film off the reel, looked at it and thought WTF? I had forgotten to fix the thing……… Okay, we’re all human. Thanks for posting, you are not allowed to beat yourself up, we’re all human. Still learning, still loving, still living. (The film was fixed, but it wasn’t right. We’re all human.)

  • Reply
    November 26, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    I worked with and assisted a Scottish photographer who lived in the States. He was always using quotes from different people. I don’t know who he attributed this quote to” A man who never made a mistake never made anything”. I think that these moments are preparing us for some future event that we can’t imagine yet. I say live and learn but it is still disheartening. I also had a recent user error with a borrowed camera. It was early morning and a huge flock of migrating geese were flying across the skyline. I waited till just the right moment and then took my one shot. Upon getting the negs back from the lab I thought the images looked a little soft. As I investigated all the possibilities I came to the discovery that the focus depth was set wrong. Two things that a seasoned film photographer taught me: Before loading the next roll of film, look through the back and fire off a shot. This shows you that the curtain/shutter is working. Then after just starting the film leader and shooting a frame to advance, rewind to tighten the film and watch the rewind handle move as you advance the next two frames to the first shot. Thanks Simon for being willing to share and what’s the deal with the pigeons? Could any of the frames be rescued by doing a b&w conversion in post? These things happen to all of us at some time or another, how we handle it is the key.

    • Reply
      November 26, 2018 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks for sharing your own experiences. I agree it’s difficult to learn if you don’t deal with experiences like this.
      Unfortunately as I show in one of the images in the article many images were as close to blacked out as can be, so were unrecoverable; black and white or otherwise. The frames I could salvage were just not as good as the ones I remember taking which turned out to be the ones which are lost forever!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    As they say in France, shit happens.

  • Reply
    Tony Blatcher
    December 23, 2018 at 11:25 pm

    I feel your pain, especially as I recently shot two rolls of HP5, knew that I had taken some memorable shots, then developed the first roll only to discover that my fix had died and I had 36 frames of nothing. Fortunately I saved the second roll with some fresh fix and they came out great. It happens to all of us one way or another, and I just put it down to the hazards of shooting film. Even digital photographers get it wrong, shooting at the wrong ISO is not uncommon, even if it can be recoverable, depending on the ISO used and camera. I’ve learned to live with it and move on, and it doesn’t remove my enjoyment of using a camera and just enjoying shooting on the day. In the grand scheme of things its small beer, as long as I have my health and my family everything else is gravy really.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
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