Taking photos with a little flare

A few years ago, I came across mesmerising portraits which feature bokeh unlike anything I had ever seen. It was such a dreamy, fairytale effect. I did some research and found that most of these images were taken with vintage lenses mounted on modern-day DSLRs. The results were incredible.

I found that there was a popular mass-produced Russian lens from the Soviet era, which had set out to emulate a famous Zeiss lens. The lens I settled upon for myself was a Helios 58mm F2 44-2. These are still fairly widely available, costing anywhere from £20-£80 at sites such as Ebay, Amazon and other specialist providers. There is even a market for modified and modernised vintage lenses, one of my favourites being The Bokeh Factory.

I ordered my lens along with a Canon EF adapter from Etsy, and waited for it to arrive. Taking it out of the box, it was very small, light and looked like a toy. I was worried. I knew it wasn’t as large and well made as modern lenses, but it didn’t look like I should even attempt to mount it to my DSLR. But I thought “I’ve come this far, so here goes”.

Shooting with manual settings is something I regularly do, so I wasn’t too concerned. But manual focus, that’s a different beast. I was used to lazily relying upon super fast AF to lock on to my subject and deliver razor-sharp results. Manual focussing was awkward and I had to unlearn my instincts to half-press, or shift my focal point with a handy thumbstick.

I was up for the challenge though. It felt like I was doing photography properly, like it was a right of passage. I thought of all the photographic greats, working within the constraints of much older equipment, thinking about the shot and mastering the camera and lens to get the perfect image. Well, I almost was. Another benefit of modern DSLRs is manual focus assist, which definitely helps!

Once I was comfortable with the lens, adapted how I would use my camera and had taken a few test shots, it was time to get swirly. Was I about to find out that the results I had seen were purely down to a lot of post-production and my little Helios was a useless relic? In a word, no. It was the real deal. It was hard work, and the light bleed would render some images unusable if you didn’t pay attention to it. Additionally, practising on moving cats probably made it more difficult than it needed to be! But the results were otherworldly.

So whilst I love the performance of my super-fast primes and telephoto lenses, this little vintage lens can take shots that they can only dream of. Just be prepared to have to put a lot more work in than you’re used to, if like me you live in the comfortable and forgiving world of modern DSLRs!

Just take a moment

I enjoy the little things in life. The moments, the conversations, the experiences. I can look at an interesting cloud or an inquisitive squirrel on the way to work, and immediately feel better about the world. At the same time, I get bored and restless very quickly. I want to explore, to create and to find new things to enjoy. I feel like I’m missing out when I’m not busy doing something. Anything. At times, that means I don’t stop and enjoy what is happening right now. Sometimes I even know I’m doing it, but I still don’t just stop thinking about what I’m missing and enjoy the moment I have.

This has a negative impact on my photography, as well as my own enjoyment. The best photos are the ones we are inspired to take in the moment. They’re the ones that mean something to us. Not the staged, the posed or the planned. Sure those images look great, but their story is one of preparation and perhaps, inevitably, a little disappointment. If you can be present and reactive to what’s happening around you, then you’re going to get some photos that really tell a story. If you combine that with the technical skill and creativity to make the most of it, then you’re going to get some incredible photos. Ones that convey emotion and give a sense of capturing a moment in time.

In life, as in photography, I think that’s the point really. To live moments and find passions, to discover new places, people and experiences. Not the ones which you think you should. The expected ones, the popular ones. Validation isn’t truly measured in likes, shares and social media glory. It’s about doing what makes you happy, scared, excited or upset. It’s not about doing things well, or not well. It’s about just doing them. Finding moments and embracing them.

It has been said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, which might be true. But it is also what limits a lot of us from discovering our own path and creating our own memories. Instagram, for instance, is awash with a thousand iterations of the same popular image. But the people taking those photos haven’t discovered a place, or discovered themselves. They’ve followed a formula to try and get the same result, maybe they’ve achieved it. Along with so many others.

It’s wonderful that we can share so much of ourselves with people all around the world. It has the possibility of bringing us all closer together, or helping us make new discoveries. But the most rewarding thing about creating and sharing memories, is making them your own way. Finding your own path and discovering your own view. Making memories that are unique, special and personal. This will help you be the most important and interesting thing of all. You.

My challenge to myself this year, is exactly that. Worry less about what next, and enjoy what life is right now. Only then will I really start to embrace, capture and remember the moments.

London nights

Growing up, I was never really that interested in London. It was fairly close by, but I didn’t visit often. As the years passed by, I started to fall for its charm. Each time I visited, it showed me something new and exciting. Although I still don’t understand the appeal of living there, it seems hurried and unforgiving. But there’s definitely something about the place, which has made it one of my favourite cities to visit.

One of my favourite things about London is walking from place to place, avoiding the tube if I can. It seems there’s so much more to see and do, and the place seems to come alive at night.