I would like to introduce you, dear reader, to Mr Roger Lowe. He has a film photography YouTube channel called “Shoot Film Like a Boss” which I discovered quite recently but I am quickly getting through his entire back catalogue. Roger has almost 10,000 followers now and covers a lot of things that many film channels don’t, things like darkroom printing. He has been very generous with his time and photographs, there is quite a number and variety included in the interview so please do take the time to read and enjoy his story and his art.
RD: Hi Roger, I am quite a new convert to your brilliant YouTube channel “Shoot Film like a Boss”. Your channel started quite unusually, in that it was all about the darkroom. How did you get started developing and printing your own photographs?
RL: Thanks Rob. Yes, my channel did start in the darkroom.
It all started after sending some personal videos to help a friend out developing film. I found it easier to show rather than explain over the phone. But actually, my journey into film photography didn’t start in the darkroom. I came into film photography quite late and some of my professional photographer friends were scratching their heads wondering why on earth would I want to shoot film in a digital age! They had started with film and they all said they couldn’t go back.
I had never shot film on a dedicated level so to me it was a new challenge on something I was always curious about. At this time used film gear was pretty cheap to buy online and in charity/thrift shops. I’d been shooting digital for many years and to be honest I was… not losing interest but wanted to try something new. I was shooting lots of seascapes and architectural images, held a few local exhibitions and also had a portrait studio.
RL: I started getting into street photography and at that time I knew nothing of film; only digital. I wanted to shoot the streets as the camera saw. No image editing.
I wasn’t shooting film back then so to do this I would shoot on DSLR with a 50mm lens and set the camera to JPG only, shoot monochrome and take the images straight from the camera unedited. You could say I banned myself from image editing.
I enjoyed this style of shooting. I had to get it right in camera. I even got to the point of setting the ISO to 3200 and limiting myself to 36 exposures and taping over the digital screen! Well, this was getting pretty ridiculous now I thought.
Just go and shoot film!
Trouble is I had no knowledge of shooting film, however, as luck happened my wife’s parents neighbour, Stan, was a retired press photographer and I was introduced to him.
Stan’s flat was full of old photography gear. He was possibly a hoarder as I had to step over boxes of gear to get to his living room! We sat down with a cup of tea and he showed me his negatives, prints and cameras and I was in awe of it all. We chatted about photography but more so his photography back in the day.
I asked him what I needed to start shooting and developing film. He waddled around his flat climbing over all the stuff and came back with a Nikon F90X, A developing tank, and some jugs! He said all I needed was chemicals and told me what to buy. I gave him his asking price and the last question I asked was “What film do I buy?”. I went online and ordered the chemicals and a roll of ILFORD FP4 PLUS. I shot the roll and I then researched online how to develop film.
The development went well but my exposures were all over the place. I was changing the ISO on the NikonF90X as you would digital! Looking back with my experience now I could have dumped the film into a tank and put it through a stand development. First lesson there!
Many rolls later and I started to get the hang of it all. I’d go back and forth to Stan and ask questions but the next step was making some prints, which again I knew nothing about… Stan waddled around his flat and came back with a Durst M370 BW black and white darkroom enlarger, an easel, and a Kodak Beehive Safelight. Again, I gave him the asking price, asked what chemicals I needed and off I went again back online to buy the chemicals and to find out how to make a print from a negative. I set up in the bathroom and I still remember the feeling of excitement seeing my first print developing. It felt a real achievement. I was hooked!
Unfortunately, Stan sadly passed away soon after. I don’t know what happened to all of his gear. I had a feeling his family binned most of it thinking it was worthless.
RL: When I started my Youtube Channel I called it “Shoot Film Like A Boss“. I was referring to Stan as “Boss” in the name. If you do something well in whatever it is you are doing there is a saying “You bossed it” or “Like a Boss”. So it kind of stuck from there. Now and again I Boss it. Mostly I don’t haha. I’m still on a long learning adventure like so many others.
Many years past and I had learned a lot through reading books, watching videos and lots and lots of trial and error. By now I had gone from the bathroom to a shed in the garden.
I was in the shed a lot experimenting and I wasn’t selling any prints or had any intentions to do so. It was just all practice, music and a beer. I had hundreds of prints in boxes, my home was flooded with framed prints and you could say I had hit the wall and ran out of ideas.
I’d learned as much as I could on my own and was literally repeating processes. I needed another spark to keep my interest up.
Going back to when I made my friend a few videos I quite enjoyed that, so I started to make some of me working in the darkroom and started uploading to YouTube. I enjoyed that and It took a good part of a year before my channel started to get noticed. And here we are today.
RD: I absolutely love your thumbnails on the YouTube channel. They are bright, in your face and often quite humorous. How do you make them?
RL: Thumbnails? Ha Ha. They do my head in. You’ve just finished making and editing your video, written your description, made all your tags and it’s then into Photoshop for a thumbnail! But with any YouTube video, you make you want to attract views. Of course, you would otherwise what’s the point in making videos for no one to click on them.
So the thumbnail on my video has to stand out. I’ve spent a lot of time on thumbnails and if you go through my Channel you will see various styles that I have tried.
I make my thumbnails in Photoshop using a preferred template size It’s not exciting but something that is important if you want someone to click and watch your video. Also, you don’t want to mislead anyone into clicking your video so I make my thumbnails as true as I can to the content. I upload my thumbnails at 1920×1080, the same as the video resolution and then YouTube does whatever YouTube does in the compression.
I am still experimenting with thumbnails and I am pleased you like them. It’s the first comment I have had on them!
RD: You are one of the more prolific film photography YouTubers out there, it must take quite a bit of your time?
RL: The videos do take time to make. And although you want your mind to be 100% on the photography your energies are also committed to filming and explaining what you are doing at the same time. It’s not easy. The darkroom filming is probably the hardest as I’m in a small space and have video tripods that I often bump into. I have some great outtakes of that!
RL: I can easily spend a whole weekend filming and editing my videos, as I am sure all YouTubers do. But I do enjoy making them and reading the comments after release which I find sometimes very helpful in my own educational journey.
I’m also amazed at how many emails and private messages I receive from people saying how I have inspired them to shoot film.
RD: I love that your darkroom is a proper British garden shed, I guess what people would call a man-cave these days. How did you go about dark-proofing it?
RL: Before it was a darkroom my shed in the garden was full of junk. So I cleared it all and decided to make space for a darkroom. I had to protect it from the elements outside so, with help from a friend, we lined the internal roof and walls with layers of bubble wrap, then a layer of thick black plastic sheeting and then boarded over it.
From there I added the worktops and everything else you see. The foam panels you see in my darkroom are ideal for pinning prints and notes to when I am working or making videos.
The only thing I didn’t do was to add an extractor fan! I need to do that as sometimes when I work on larger prints the chemicals can get a bit strong. In the summer it can get very warm in the day so I do most work at night and in the winter it can get cold so I use a heater. I also have a microwave in there for heating chemicals up when they drop in temperature during use. I’ve often thought about heating elements in the trays but I’m happy with the microwave for now.
The shed is powered by running an extension cable into the house and the water comes from the garden hose directly into the sink inside the darkroom. Pretty Micky Mouse stuff but it works for me. I think most can relate to that.
RD: I particularly enjoy your pinhole photography videos. How is that adventure going?
RL: I Love that pinhole camera! I get some interesting looks when I am out shooting with it.
You might be interested in these
RL: My pinhole adventure series is eventually going to lead into a zine or book of the photographs. I have just finished episode three, which was shot on ILFORD PAN F and used Perceptol for development. I didn’t quite get the results I wanted but you have to try these things to move forward.
I have lots of ideas for the whole series but the weather conditions have to be ideal. I also need the time to make the series as not all of my viewers are interested in pinhole photography so there has to be a balance.
RL: One thing I have had to accept is the soft-focus you get with a pinhole camera. I use the Lerouge 66 medium format pinhole camera and it is well made.
The first print I made I was disheartened by the soft-focus as I was expecting it to be sharp. But you know what… it is what it is. Who’s going to look at a print on the wall from a few inches away and say “Hey, that’s not in focus?” A few maybe. But then your answer is, yeah, it’s a pinhole camera print. That’s how it looks and stop breathing on the glass.
Ha. I love it!
RD: I find your darkroom videos really educational and interesting. What advice would you give someone who wants to start analogue printing?
RL: Thanks Rob. I try to keep them interesting to watch. One thing I enjoy about the darkroom is getting away from a computer and getting hands-on. As you say, it’s my Man Cave! Can we say Man Cave? It’s my Hobby Cave.
RL: Just me, a beer, some music and photography. Oh, and video cameras when I’m making videos.
It’s taken me years to build up the equipment I have in the darkroom. When Stan gave me that enlarger, red lamp and easel that’s all I had and I then needed trays. I went out and got three cat litter trays. Did the job! And I didn’t have a thermometer either so I used the plastic house thermometer we had on the wall!
I used my bathroom, which is very small, and placed a large wooden board over the bath and used that to rest the enlarger and litter trays. The safelight was wired in from the hallway using an extension lead and, of course, there was running water. That’s all I needed to print. It was a bit tight but at least I was printing.
I had to be very careful as outside the tiled floor of the bathroom was a wool carpet. The fibres would find their way inside and onto my paper. That was really annoying. I got around it by steaming the bathroom before I used it.
It really is simple to set up if you have a bathroom. The only advice I can give to anyone starting out in the darkroom is to have patience. I used to get annoyed when prints didn’t work out or kept getting dust and hairs on the print. It is frustrating, but I’ve learned to take my time and enjoy the process and not take it all too seriously, which makes printing much more enjoyable.
You will use a lot of paper at first finding your feet but over time you will use less.
When I make prints, and this shows in my videos, I get to a point where I say, “That’s it, I’m happy with what I’ve done, I’m not going to waste any more time or paper”. Even if there is a dust spot or hair. It is what it is.
So my advice to anyone wanting to start analogue printing is to not take it too seriously, enjoy the process, don’t get frustrated and better prints will come with time and experience. Schools are a good place to find darkroom equipment. Hardly any schools are using their darkrooms anymore and you can get some good bargains if you ask.
RD: You try out a lot of different film stocks on the channel. What is your favourite of all the ones you have tried? Also, can you recommend a less well-known film for us to try?
RL: I am quite lucky as I have different film stocks sent to me from the kind people on YouTube and Instagram. If it wasn’t for my channel and those kind folk I’d never have tried as many film stocks as I have. I think you need to shoot a particular film many many times before you can review it or grow to like it.
If you dropped me in India with one film stock to use to document my travels it would probably be between Kodak Tri-X 400 and ILFORD HP5 PLUS. Both solid films that I have used many times and can be pushed and pulled if you need to change the speed.
A film I tried recently was Astrum 400 from Ukraine. A very thin film. I was blown away by the contrast and silver detail. And again a new emulsion from Russia I believe, Santa RAE 1000 Film which is also very thin and also blew me away with similar results as the Astrum. Both films developed and performed very well for random street photos. I can only describe them as very punchy and Silvery! If that makes sense? I also have a few rolls of Silberra (another Russian Film) to try, which I intend to show in the future.
There are many weird and wonderful films out there. Everyone shooting film should come out of their comfort zone and try other emulsions from time to time.
RD: What is your favourite subject matter? You must be spoilt for choice where you live (I believe it’s the Isle of Wight?)
RL: Ha, that’s a tough one! Sometimes I will challenge myself. Pick a random subject and go shoot it. It could be cracked pavements, shoes, water, metal. Anything. When I am lost for ideas I will take that approach. It’s amazing what you come back with. I wonder sometimes of flicking through a book with closed eyes and putting my finger on a word and turn that into a challenge. As long as it’s not ‘The’ or ‘And’.
I actually enjoy portraiture. Interesting faces using natural or simple lighting. Not the sort of portraits that the client would use for a portfolio maybe. Just capturing a moment as we chat about the weather, or football, or whatever. That moment they look puzzled, or surprised, or laugh. I like those kind of portraits. I have not made many videos of this on my channel though. I used to shoot many portraits this way in my studio on digital.
RL: Landscapes and Seascapes are all around me and I do enjoy going for a long walk along the beach with my camera. I also enjoy Street Photography in London. I am originally from South London so it’s nice for me to go back.
I’m not interested in people watching so much but dirty alleyways, roads, signs and buildings. If I want people in my photos I usually keep their identity hidden. I’m not one for jumping in someone’s face and hitting the shutter. I have done in the past but it doesn’t float my boat. It’s not lack of confidence. I just like looking for photographs that would look good framed at home. Wouldn’t fancy a strangers face staring at me.
Thanks for the interview Rob.
I’d also like to say thanks to all of you that watch my videos and take the time to subscribe, Like, comment and support my channel. I have met some great people on this journey so far. Many of the prints I have made are on my Instagram account “Shoot Film Like A Boss“.
RD: Thanks, Roger!
What a great interview. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and learned a lot too from the videos on “Shoot Film Like a Boss”. I can’t wait to see how the pinhole photography comes along. I should also say thanks for the custom cover art/thumbnail he created especially for this interview. Just in case you didn’t see it in its full glory, here it is!
Roger is the first British film photographer that I have included in this series, but hopefully not the last. I really want to make this a global resource so if you know of any film photography YouTubers that aren’t from the US or UK please do drop me a line with their details in the comments below and I will get in touch with them to see if we can include them.
On a related note, is anyone on the way to starting their own YouTube channel? Or perhaps you want to but you can’t quite get to it? What’s stopping you? Let’s see if we can get some encouragement and support going 🙂
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