Raki, Fish and Kemenche

By Omar Ozenir

It was late evening, the light was low, my lens opened up to max f/4.0, but I could not remain indifferent to this merry dinner on the Black Sea coast. The good mood peaked after a while – not least due to the raki* and the kemenche** - and the group proceeded to dance the horon***.

The willingness to share one’s meal with a complete stranger is deeply embedded in Turkish culture. Although I was invited to the table, I declined in order to be able to concentrate on photography.

Whilst printing this frame my thoughts wandered away from the evening's memory to something else. Let me share part of the contact print first:

I exposed this roll six years ago and back then I printed the frame marked with red. Yet after some deliberation I decided it wasn’t a good photograph and chucked the print into my archive without any further analysis. A few weeks ago I took out the contact sheet from my files again, and whilst having another good look was very intrigued by the frame right after the marked one (number 17). It looked much better to my eye.

How had I missed it? In this series of pictures my eye looks for something that provides coherence, a focal point, where it can rest after having wandered around. In frame 17, the raised head of the man with the kemenche and his smile provide this focus. In frame 16 on the other hand, the dialogue between the men on either side of the kemenche player had induced me to print the photo in the first place, but later on I decided that this wasn’t good enough to carry the picture. Anyway, after this new discovery I recently printed the top photo.

Which brings me to the point I want to make. When I’m out photographing with someone who’s using digital I often encounter the following scenario: “Hey, card’s full (because it hasn’t been emptied for months?), let me quickly do a little clean-up”. When I see that, I always think about those poor pictures that aren’t given a chance.

Isn’t is possible that after a year, five years, fifteen years, as the photographer’s understanding of the medium evolves, he/she would have looked at and evaluated those photos with a different pair of eyes? Had I not used film for this photo, exposed 160 instead of 16 frames with a digital camera, deleted half of them within half an hour, marked frame 16 as important and saved the rest in a dark corner of a hard drive, would I have the chance and – maybe more importantly – the willpower to return and have another glance at those “not good enough” pictures after several years? What about the deleted ones? 

Longtime followers of my blog will have realised that I almost never use the word "digital". Because on one hand I don’t want to get caught up in unnecessary polarisations (I hope this won't happen here) and comparisons, on the other hand I don’t want to lose focus, which is film based photography and the darkroom. Still, I can’t help but ponder on digital photography’s slogan “shoot as much as you want, delete the bad ones” and the very high probability of an ensuing lack of discipline.

The photograph and contact sheet I’ve shown here made me realise once again that what’s considered as the weakness of film photography can actually be one of it’s greatest strengths.

The picture’s darkroom story:

Bronica RF645 medium format camera, 65mm lens. I developed Ilford HP5+ in D76 (1+1) for 13 minutes.

The print is on fibre-based Ilford Multigrade IV. First, to have an idea where I was, I looked at the image of the neg on the easel and thought “Hmm, 20 seconds at grade 3?”. I placed a small strip over the picture’s heart (I’m very very frugal these days…paper is expensive!) and gave it a 20 second exposure. After being dried in the microwave:

Not a bad guess. It wants slightly more exposure. Maybe a tiny bit higher contrast as well? OK, two more test strips are in order. One will receive 22 seconds at grade 3, the other 11 seconds at grade 3 followed with 11 seconds at grade 3.5, in other words 22 seconds at grade 3.25. I do try to get the basic exposure and contrast right. Again, after being microwaved:

The left one is grade 3.25, the right one grade 3. It may not be very obvious due to surface reflections, but 22 seconds at grade 3 looks fine.

Let’s do a straight print:

As I guessed, the photograph gets lighter from left to right, because the half-open space was receiving light from the right. OK, I’ll have to give the right side more exposure. Similarly, the table wants more tone. What about the right background? That area is a mess; especially the white sheet pulls the eye straight to itself.

I did a couple of further tests which I won’t show here. These helped me to zero in on the burning-in exposures. To darken the white sheet in the background I used two L shaped pieces of cardboard. With these I can create rectangles of any size for burn-ins:

Eventually, I cooked the final print as shown in the diagram below.

The main exposure was 22 seconds at grade 3.

1. Graduated darkening of the right side by giving additional 11 seconds to the right of the red line. A piece of cardboard was moved back and forth.

2. Additional 11 seconds below the blue line, using my hand.

3. Additional 7 seconds to the top of the frame with a straight piece of cardboard. Further 7 seconds to the top left, using my hand again.

4. For the white sheet (within the green frame) I opened up the lens 2 stops and gave the area 50 additional seconds at grade 1, using the L shaped cartons.

5. Finally, further 7 seconds to the top right.

I think about my dodge/burn exposures in terms of percentages. This helps me to visualise tonal changes better. In this case 11 seconds is 50% of the main exposure, 7 seconds is about 30% of the main exposure.

The wet print on 30x40cm fibre-based Ilford MGIV:

The tray is labelled “fix” but actually contains water. I try to use tongs and not stick my fingers into the chemicals.

*Raki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rak%C4%B1

**Kemenche: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kemenche

***Horon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horon_(dance)


  1. I agree with your choice of frame to print, Omar. The kemenche player is definitely the guy who ties the whole pic together. Great stuff.

  2. Such a wonderful walk thru the shoot and then the looking, at the contact sheet.The actual printing a real learning tool, for those considering actual wet printing!
    I was happy to see the photographer shot a whole roll, of an interesting subject.16 exposures. Many folks now days talk about shooting very little. as a sign of craftsmanship..
    It's not. You must explore a subject.
    Digital files should all be stored. Later one can go thru and look again. A Contact sheet with images that are somewhat larger can also be made. It is not the sole province of film.
    Great to see site and images! TY for translating!

  3. Hi Omar, I enjoyed reading this blog entry. I was in Istanbul this past February. It was my first visit and I loved it. You can see some of the photos I shot with FILM -- 120 using a 1961 Rolleiflex -- on my website danwagnerphotography.com

    Yesterday I was thinking about how much I love shooting film. First off it's how I started. But mainly, when I shoot digital (for work mostly) I don't feel as connected and involved. The anticipation wondering what the film will look like after it's developed gives me something to look forward to. I want to feel the film with my hands as I put it on a roll, and make all the processing decisions -- I want that involvement. Digital lasts as long as your shutter speed.

    And when you print (I don't have a darkroom for printing -- just developing) and burn and dodge with your hands -- well there's nothing like it -- complete involvement.

  4. Fantastic as usual.

    I love your thought process when determining how to print from your negatives.

    I would do well to learn from your experience here. I apply some dodging and burning but often don't stop to think enough about what parts are too distracting and what parts are really important.. I am too general with my printing I think.

    You have opened my eyes.

    Thank you.

  5. These days 80% of my photography is digital. I always down load the card on the day. I don't think I have ever filled a card. All my shots are stored (except, possibly, the accidental ones of my feet) and I often go back through them. Negatives are scanned and archived for future reference.

    A friend of mine never downloaded his images. Camera was stolen one day...

    An interesting article Omar!

  6. Wonderful explanation. Fortunately I've saved most of my negatives; maybe it's time to take a look through them again.

    If you continue this series I'll end up with an enlarger and a makeshift darkroom, space or no space.

  7. Nice stuff again Omar, and oh how right about you are about discipline. Well done for sharing your contact with us too . . it takes courage!

  8. Nice stuff again Omar, and oh how right about you are about discipline. Well done for sharing your contact with us too . . it takes courage to let others see everything rather than just the finished image!

  9. Great article as usual. It happened to myself too, to look back at some old negatives and found them better than I judged in first place. I wonder how many I would find if I went through browsing my whole archive. I find that after some time I look at my photographs with a different eye, more detached if you like. I think it has partly to do with the fact that the "first hand" memory of the scene depicted has faded a bit in the meantime and that leaves me more room to creative expression in the darkroom. Speaking of which I appreciated a lot your lesson at dodging and burning to "focus" better the image, to direct better the eye of the observer to the "core" of the picture. Again, really a good article, it's been a pleasure to take my time and reading it.
    Cheers, Marty.

  10. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment folks.

    Dan, some great shots in your Istanbul portfolio, e.g. #29. By the way, in #36 there's a sign that says "Pamuk Ticaret", that's where I buy all my film, paper and chemicals...ha ha :)

  11. As usual Omar's blog is interesting and very informative and the resulting print is great, thanks Omar.

  12. ymgandy@aol.co.uk22 April 2013 at 22:14

    Very interesting walk-through on making your excellent print. I have had a home darkroom for about 30 years but find it great to listen or watch or read how others produce their prints. Ypu have done it in an easy informative manner & show an excellent result. Many thanks for that.

  13. I am Jack's Brain21 August 2013 at 07:06

    Great post. It's great seeing someone else's thought process concerning image selection and printing decisions.