Wednesday, 1 December 2010

My reputation was saved by a ZSD.

Last week I was looking through some of my old press stuff from the days in the early eighties when I freelanced in London for some twelve different publications.

Looking at the images bought back many memories of various jobs and situations etc, which I'm quite happy to share here (even the embarrassing ones).

One job in particular sprang to mind. I was asked to provide pictures in  colour for Hello magazine and black and white for the City of London Recorder newspaper.

The job itself was to photograph the Queen visiting the New Royal Mint premises.

On the day of the visit, I arrived in plenty of time and secured myself a good vantage point. The photo pass that I was issued only allowed me to photograph the Queen outside.  The indoor shots would be taken by another photographer

I was using my Canon A1 and the T90.The A1 was loaded with Ilford HP5 black and white film rated at 400 and the T90 was filled with Ektachrome 400 slide film. My reasons for the film in each camera was that I wanted to use the spot metering capability in the T90 to make sure that I was exposing correctly for the skin tones. Essential with unforgiving slide film.  The black and white, I would develop myself later as the newspaper was only printed once a week.

I opened the back of the A1 and threaded the film tongue into the take up spool, wound one frame on and then closed the back. I then fired off a couple  more frames until the mechanical counter showed number one in the small window.  Then I opened the back of the T90 and laid the tongue of the Ektachrome film against the take up spool. I closed the door and heard the film being automatically loaded. Thus set, I waited for The Queen to arrive.

HM always attracts a good crowd and I shot lots of pics of her with her subjects alternating between the two cameras. My window of opportunity was however all too brief and before a few minutes had passed, the Queen had gone inside.

I looked at the film counters on both cameras. The A1 had made 27 images and the T90 was nearly full with 34 frames gone. I put both cameras back in my bag and drove to Joe's Basement in Wardour Street SOHO to have the slide film developed. Joe's was a photolab that was open 24 hours a day. You could go in at one o'clock in the morning, hand in your slide film and have it back two hours later. They also did push processing, printing, mounting and lots of other photography related things.

I gave my film over the counter at 11:00 o'clock and was told that it would be ready by one. This was ideal because I had an appointment to hand in the best slides to the magazine at two thirty.

This meant I could go home, get some lunch, come back and pick up the slides then take them to the magazine with plenty of time to spare.

When I got home, I took the A1 from my bag and went to rewind the film. I pushed in the tiny film release button and lifted the lever on the film spool to begin the process.

Normally, for a thirty six exposure film, I would have to turn the handle about thirty or so times until it went slack, indicating that the film was back safely inside the cannister. This time however I felt the tension loosen after about two turns!



This could only mean one thing. The film had not gone through the camera. I had no black and white images for the newspaper. I felt sick. In the photography world, you are only as good as your last job. I had made a stupid amateur mistake and would be a laughing stock. No-one would employ a freelancer who didn't check if his film was loaded. What could I do? I began to formulate excuses but each one sounded more absurd that the previous one.

Then I had an epiphany. A simple solution came to me. I remembered that a couple of months  previously, I had bought myself an Ohnar Zoom Slide duplicator (ZSD) from Jessops photoshop on Tottenham Court road. This was a tube, containing a fixed focus lens at f22 that fitted on the front of an SLR and enabled the user to insert a slide at the front end in order to take a picture of the resuting image. There were two types. A fixed focal length and a zoom version. I had paid about £25 for the zoom version.

 Zoom slide duplicator. Image by Delgibo on Flickr

It was now nearly time for me to pick up the slides from Joe's. I grabbed my T90 , the ZSD and a roll of HP5 then made my way to Wardour Street. The slides were in my possession at one fifteen.

At about one thirty,  I made my way to one of the sit down cubicles in the mens toilet at Hello magazine. The next half an hour or so, saw me sitting on the toilet with my camera, ZSD attached,  pointed at a light bulb. I fed the best slides into the ZSD, zoomed in to crop and pressed the shutter, thus making a black and white copy of each colour image.

At two twenty five, I was able to hand over the colour images to the picture editor at Hello magazine.

That evening, I processed and printed the black and white images and handed the pics to my editor.

 Colour image from T90
Black and white copy from ZSD

 Ektachrome original

HP5 copy from ZSD

Reputation intact. Until next time that is!   ;o)


  1. Today i was freaking out at my event because I change the bag for today's event and when I took out the camera was no memory card in it since I was downloading the old stuff and left it in my laptop. In my regular backpack I keep everything, includin the memory cards.

    Luckily I found a 2 gb card in a small pocket of the bag and the event was short enough for that space...

  2. Well next time that you're in the Olten area Ruxi and you need a memory card, just give me a call!! :o)

  3. Not quite the same level of gravity of assignment, but early in my career I had to take a group shot of some business men. I constructed a group that was a thing of beauty, and started to take pictures. Predictably one wag in the group called out "I hope there's a film in the camera!" at which point the blood drained from my head as I realised I hadn't loaded a film since the previous job.

    I took the ensuing guffaws and ridicule in good spirits, and it saved me from having to tell the same old jokes to get everyone smiling. I never made that mistake again!

  4. You've just reminded me of something along the same lines.... :o)