I had an interest in photography as a teenager, probably inherited from my Grandfather who always liked to show his black-and-white prints. My first jobs were in local newspapers in Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness and this brought me into contact with proper photographers. My job involved writing and editing the words, and I would often go out to do interviews with one of the photographers – I remember helpfully pointing out that his hammer-head flash was pointing the wrong way, at the ceiling. He was very nice about it.
The job allowed me to shoot some photography for the paper as well doing the words, and it was a revelation – and a pressure – to try to produce the technically correct picture, in the right style, to order and to a deadline. It was a great way to learn about people and the country that we live in though, and it could be very funny – trying to conduct an interview, make notes and take pictures while a monkey climbed up my tie and sat on my head presented an unusual set of challenges.
I decided I might make a better photographer than a hard-nosed journalist – I’m too polite, don’t like asking personal questions! I was very happy to get accepted onto one of the few degree programmes at the time (1989) and spent three years looking at pictures, studying the history and culture of photography and producing work in a lot of different genres – and doing an awful lot of printing.
I’ve earned my living in photography, in one way or another since then. I freelanced for editorial or corporate business magazines mostly and did a lot of theatre and performance photography, but it mostly boils down to producing photographs for publications.
I developed a strong interest in outdoor activities – mountain walking, climbing, kayaking, cycling and did some work as a mountain guide as a summer job – Ben Nevis and Glencoe was my patch! This led to doing some work for the John Muir Trust, a wild land conservation body who own and care for some fantastic wild land in Scotland. I had the enviable job of photographing their land, and also did some guiding and workshops for their educational programme – we put together some memorable photo trips up Ben Nevis and in Skye.
I mostly teach now, at a Further Educational College in West Lothian and also at Stills photography centre in Edinburgh, where I run several weekend courses on various types of image editing and more practical shooting workshops – basically if I’m interested in an aspect of photography and think others may be too, I write up a course and if people sign up of it, it runs. Simple.
One thing that has often struck me on these courses, is how often people may have some competence with their gear, but are not so confident about the ‘creative’ or ‘aesthetic’ side of things. I nearly always ask which photographers clients admire and are inspired by, and it is surprising how often they don’t really know many. I can’t imagine that musicians haven’t heard of Beethoven or the Beatles, but often the equivalent figures in photographic history are not so well known. I like to make some time to open the door to that rich source of inspiration and ideas.
So, you’re a Fujiholic?
Must be – I was using Fuji films before digital existed. For shooting at Edinburgh Festival theatre productions I’d nearly always use Neopan 400 pushed up to 1600 and Neopan 1600 pushed up to 3200 or beyond. 3200 iso was fast for film, though today’s digital high iso performance is quite incredible by comparison.
I also used to use Fuji Provia for people pictures for magazines, Velvia for some colour landscapes, and various types of Superia neg for other work – it pushed pretty well. I do still use film by the way, and have a fully functioning Nikon FM2.
Fuji’s XT-1 is, as far as I’m concerned, the closest thing to a digital Nikon FM2. I don’t appreciate the ‘retro styling’ just because it looks good (though it does) but because it’s pretty practical. The dials on the top aren’t for show, and some of the lenses even have an aperture ring on the lens, so I know where everything is and don’t have to read the manual! When I discuss aperture, I unconsciously make the aperture ring gesture with my left hand because it became such a physical memory. The gesture probably looks a bit odd.
I did use the X-100 for a bit. I used it because it had a fixed lens and so I couldn’t be tempted by any additional lenses. That self-ruse didn’t work.
Which is your favourite lens? Why?
Probably the 27mm because it is so compact. It means I can carry it everywhere, but especially where space is at a premium – so sea kayak camping trips or in a rucsac on a mountain. Having a camera in my pack when I’m cycling also gives a good reason for poor performance times at events – I was second last on the epic Three Pistes Challenge around the Cairngorm mountains. But at least I finished. I can even sling it over my shoulder when I go for a run (or a walk with momentum) up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.
When you next go travelling, what gear will you take?
I am planning a fortnight’s hiking and camping trip in Iceland in the summer, where I’ll have to carry everything. So that’s where I think the XT-1 will come into its own. I’ll have the ‘classic’ three lenses: wide, standard and tele: 18mm, 27mm, 60mm. I don’t actually shoot huge numbers of frames (a habit that comes from film experience) so won’t need masses of storage and batteries if I’m disciplined. Probably I’ll take a polariser for the standard lens and a moderate (2 stop) graduate. I may not even take a tripod.
There’s a good argument for taking less kit and not just because it’s easier to carry. I think that photography is all about editing and working creatively within limitations, so if you only have a couple of lenses, you make pictures with what you’ve got. It’s quite refreshing. Brett Weston used big cameras and claimed that anything more than a few hundred yards from the car just isn’t photogenic – and I like to get a very long way from the roadside.
When out shooting, what are your settings? Why?
Whatever is appropriate really. I shoot RAW. Usually manual exposure, or perhaps shutter priority, centre-weighted metering. I like the settings that journalist photographers used to use: “Set the lens to f8 and be there.”
What kind of tools do you use for post processing?
I teach image editing quite a bit so I need to have a reasonable grasp of a few different options. So I use Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, Lightroom and also Affinity Photo is good. The principles of tone and contrast adjustment, then optimising colour are similar in many programmes, as long as there is access to levels and curves.
The ability to make localised colour and tone adjustments is important to me, and being able to brush in subtle contrast to guide the viewer’s eye is fantastic – especially if you know how tricky that can be in a traditional darkroom.
Personally I would mostly use Lightroom, and its local brush and gradient adjustments are very flexible. I look to create neutral to cool key colours (whites and greys) and crisp mid-tone contrast. I am not very keen on strongly edited photographs – the film darkroom is still my benchmark for how I might interpret a photograph. I also like reality so I want the photograph to maintain a relationship with it! On the whole I would rather be playing outside, so Lightroom helps me to not waste too much time at a computer screen
What is your favourite Film Simulation? Why?
I wasn’t not too familiar with them until I found that more recent Lightroom versions enable access to them through the camera profile options. I shoot RAW to maximise the exposure latitude especially. The classic chrome is pretty good though – it’s neutral to cool in colour balance, and the mono with red filter. I use these as staring points and then add a few tweaks to create my own recipes.
Iceland. A fortnight based round the Landmannalaugar walking trail in the mountainous south of Iceland.
NAME: Keith Brame