Stephen Brewell Photography | Blog

Welcome to my blog.

Like any other blog, it's just a collection of my musings on the world of photography ...

Equipment is no excuse

June 26, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I don't know how many of you watched the Imagine documentary on BBC1 last night about the photographs of Vivian Maier. It's available on iPlayer - I thoroughly recommend it! Alternatively, a number of her images are on the web, notably at

Her photographs are simply amazing. For me, her images are the epitome of Edward Cartier Bresson's mantra of "the decisive moment". As pieces of art they are an incredible record of life on the streets of New York over the 50s, but as photographs they are stunning pedagogical examples of the art of photography. A good photograph has to possess strong elements of composition, light, subject matter and timing. Great photographs have them all - Vivian Maier's excelled at the lot!

They are true black and white images - by that I mean they have pure black, pure white and all the tones in between. They emphasise the subject by the skilled use of light and composition. One can learn a lot about how to take a great photograph by studying the images she took.

She took all of these on a Rolleiflex medium format manual camera, similar to the Rolleicord I have, yet her control of exposure, focus and depth of field were amazing - makes you wonder why we rely on autofocus and autoexposure so much these days.


She took photographs for herself, she never showed her images to anyone and kept the 150,000 of them locked away until her death when they were discovered. She was not influenced by what people thought or wanted, she just took the photographs of what she wanted the way she wanted.

I have never seen such natural talent.

I have a lot to learn.



Film - it's a very different world

June 18, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I've read many times that one of the ways you can improve your photography skills is to try shooting with a film camera for a while.

Reasons being:

  1. Every click costs real money - film, development, printing - whereas digital is largely free, excluding the printer ink and paper at the end of the journey. If you are like me, I don't consider the job done until I have something physical to handle and look at
  2. Especially when using a fully manual camera with no inbuilt meter or autofocus, it forces you to slow down and to think about what you are taking, what exposure to use, your composition, what to include/exclude, how to frame it, etc ...
  3. You work with constraints - you can't swap ISO halfway through (so that's one less parameter you have to play with to achieve your vision) and you can't swap between colour and black & white film just when you fancy
  4. You just can't fire off a dozen what-if-I-try-this type shots (well, you can if you are made of money), so preparation is everything. Not that there isn't merit in the shoot-lots approach - that's one of the biggest advantages of digital - you can work the scene to get the best results you can. It's a bit like 'A' levels in my era, where you got one exam at the end, vs modern A2 and AS levels where you can retake modules as many times as you want until you get the best results possible.
  5. Whilst you can, if you are an expert, modify how the negative will be processed (pushed) or what is dodged/burned onto the final print, generally you have a lot less leeway than you do in digital with the power of Photoshop. Getting in right in camera is really important and a valuable lesson even in the digital age.
  6. If it's black and white film, then you need to think in black and white to get the best results. You need to concentrate on the tones, shapes, lines and textures that will make a good image. It's a very different process to thinking in colour.

So, I've always had it in the back of my mind to give this a go, but never really had the drive.

I was fortunate enough to inherit the full contents of a darkroom from my father-in-law a few years back and his beautiful Rolleicord, but never really had the guts to give that one a go as it just looks so intimidating. So into the loft it all went ...

... but it's back out now.

I was fortunate enough (again) to acquire a Leica M3 a week ago from a friend in Texas. Complete with a full set of prime lenses ranging from 35mm to 135mm, it is a late 1950s version (single throw) and is just a thing of immense beauty and precision. No wonder Stuff Magazine voted it the ultimate gadget of all time. It's been gathering dust for the last 15 years at least, and when it arrived from the US and I'd recovered after HM Customs and Excise had their (not insignificant) pound of flesh, I unpacked, cosmetically cleaned and played. Works like its brand new. Wow! Just wow!

Leica M3Leica M3

Then on Sunday it was, without doubt, one of the best Fathers Days ever at the weekend. Not only did I get two touching, hand-picked cards from my wonderful kids, one of whom relieved me of the job of cooking the full roast dinner (don't things taste nicer when someone else cooks them?) and I got to watch the MotoGP with a few beers whilst Mrs B scaled the ironing mountain. Not only that, but I also took the Leica to the Newark Kit Car Show in the morning to shoot my first roll of black and white and, whilst dinner was being cooked, managed to develop it with the chemicals that I received as my Fathers Day present using some of the aforementioned darkroom kit retrieved from the loft. Amazingly, the negatives appear to have come out out, but I wont be sure of the quality of the job I have done until I manage to find somewhere to get a contact print done. More than likely they will be covered in dust, scratches and drying marks - but I have to start somewhere. 

But the whole point of this tale was to recount the thrill I got at taking this piece of photographic history out with me and taking pictures with it. It was like the thrill I got when I first went out with my first SLR. But somehow different. The reaction of people who saw you with it or whom you pointed it at was unexpected; they wanted to engage in the process and not hide or turn away, they wanted to know why I wasn't shooting digital like everyone else. The camera and the act of photographing with it was almost revered as opposed to shunned - which sadly is quite often the case with an SLR. I also had my Fujifilm X100 hanging around my neck alongside the Leica M3 and the Weston light meter (it came with the Rolleicord), so I also took plenty of shots with that as well - I find it too attracts less negative attention than an SLR, so the two together were the perfect combination.

I was able to slow down and put into practise the theory and learnings from of all those digital shots I had ever shot, and it felt special. It felt like I was a photographer

Whether it will improve my photography, I don't know, but it certainly won't harm it.

But one notable moment to reflect on was when framing a shot with a sign in the middle that I didn't really want included, I automatically acknowledged that it wasn't an issue cos I could 'shop it out later!!! I guess I have a way to go ...

I'll post some prints when I have them



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