Me playing my first good-ish guitar a Yamaha FG180 in the middle ’80s. I read today that this guitar model has acquired a cult status, not quite sure why it was not particularly expensive when new. The feature picture was chosen for its planned lack of respect for convention ie. huge film grain and camera shake at the time of taking.

Name one thing that changed your photographic life?

There has been a bit of a do on photography websites recently asking what one thing changed your photographic life? In this post I have given you a few possibilities that helped me make pictures with passion and style. Which one do you think it will be?


The possibilities

A few possibilities come to mind when thinking about what changed my photographic life? The original Lensbaby Composer, fast maximum aperture prime lenses, Agfa Rodinal black and white film developer or mild Dyslexia are all contenders.


The Lenbaby Composer

Over the years there have been many iterations of the Lensbaby design with some being more practically useful than others. Lensbabies are a Marmite type of product you either love them or hate them. I guess I bought the original Composer around 2009 and used it for the first time in 2011 in Blackpool. I made the mistake of using it with an Infrared only SLR body at f2. A little knowledge was a dangerous thing then, IR light does not focus in the same plane as visible light. On day two I used a normal body and everything was fine. I still have my unused Lensbaby Composer ten years on. When it is fitted to a Fujifilm Lens mount adapter for some reason it does not focus at infinity.

Hardly a life-changing purchase but it opened a door to new ways of seeing.

Fast maximum aperture prime lenses

The kit in your bag has to be suitable for the style of picture you want to make. That might sound obvious but you will not be able to get the look if the gear is not designed for your intended purpose. For the past 15 or so years, I have been investing in fast prime lenses. If you want pictures with a shallow depth of field then the right type of lens will help. The first lens I bought of this type was the Canon 85mm f1.2 followed by the Sigma 20mm f1.8. Then I moved to Fujifilm and bought Samyang manual focus prime lenses. Now I have the 8mm f2.8, 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2 and 85mm f1.4. I traded in the 135mm f2.0 I wasn’t using it due to the size and weight.

Fast MF lenses could be a contender for a photography changing product.


Mild Dyslexia

I was unaware that I may have a mild form of Dyslexia until I was in my mid-forties but I have not been properly tested. Reading out loud and sentence construction when writing has always been difficult for me. About five years ago I started using the Grammarly software to straighten out my mangled sentences with words missing or in the wrong order. I am not a member of the Apostrophe & Allied Workers Union. Dyslexia means word-blindness. Hopefully, by the time you read this post, I will have found and corrected all the grammatical and spelling errors in the first draft.

As a photographer, I see and do things in a style that is very individual to me. Many successful photographers are also dyslexic. I found one of my photography hero’s Colin Jones in a list of famous dyslexics.

Other dyslexics are Jennifer Aniston, Richard Branson, Cher, Tom Cruise, Paloma Faith, Noel Gallagher, Anthony Hopkins to name a few of us.

Agfa Rodinal Black and White Film Developer

You may initially think a film developer is an odd choice for a photography changing product. For the uninitiated, a black and white film can be developed to several different parameters such as fine-grain or acutance (edge sharpness). Agfa Rodinal Black and White Film Developer is not a “fine-grain” film developer. When this property is linked to a fast film pronounced possibilities begin to open up for the creative photographer.

Not long after I started mono photography Kodak introduced the T Max range of 100, 400 & 3200 ASA films in 1986. My favourite of the range was the 35mm 3200 ASA film because it created pictures with grain-like golf balls when developed in Rodinal and looked like no-one else’s work. The conventional view was and still is the grain is bad, grain-free and smooth texture is good. I expect you have read me saying digital is too everything – sharp, contrasty, saturated and clinically clean and emotionally dead.

Same old thinking 

It is the same type of thinking in the art world that says the currently accepted way is the only way of seeing and applying paint to a backing. Impressionist Claude Monet was thought to be mad and a bad painter because he was one of the first of the 19th-century painters to allow the paint to have a texture of its own. The Impasto technique to a lesser degree had been pioneered by Rembrandt, Titian, Vermeer and Velazquez in the 17th-century and would appear to have rapidly gone out of fashion after them.

Monet’s work leads to the reuse of Impasto, where the paint is laid on in very thick layers so it is thick enough for the brush or pallet-knife strokes to be visible. Without the Impasto technique, Vincent van Gogh would not have created some of his most memorable Post-impressionist works 18 years later.

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) – Impression Sunrise 1872

(The port of Le Harve – Monets home town) 

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) – Wheatfield with Crows 1890. Note the Impasto technique. The word impasto is Italian in origin; in which it means “dough” or “mixture”; the verb “impastare” translates to “to knead”, or “to paste”. 

I started making pictures from blurs and heavy grain in the mid-1980s, it felt right to me then as it does now. The shot above was taken in the mid-1980s after a Henley Regatta meeting.


Kodak reintroduced the T Max range of black and white negative films in 2018. For those who want to try film-based photography a word of advice, the analogue process is much more intuitive than digital photography. However, there is always a but! If you make a mistake with film the process can not forgive you. When it is wrong, it stays wrong, unlike most digital errors that can be corrected later in the process.

A Spanish dancer photographed in the late 1980s. Kodak TMZ 3200 ASA film developed in Agfa Rodinal.

In conclusion

If asked to name one thing that changed my photographic life? I would not have immediately thought of a film developer I used over 30 years ago. If you believe that a photograph is a tactile entity in its own right that is different from the subject matter, then this opens up the possibility that a photograph does not have to be a direct representation of the subject matter.

Another strong influence on me from that period in the early 1980s was Kodak Ektachrome Transparency (positive) film. With slides there is a need to get the composition right in the camera as it was not easily possible to crop out distractions on the edge of the frame later. This reversal film was reintroduced by Kodak in 2017.

Please give us all some feedback in the box below. Without naming the obvious cameras, tell us all what has had a major effect on your photographic life?


The pictures illustrated in this post are in the public domain and are sourced from the website. allows unlimited copying, distributing and displaying of the images of public domain artworks.