This week we'll take a look at one of my favorite black and white films: Ilford FP4+. What makes this newest version of a very, very old film stock so appealing? Let's find out.
I somehow conned my dad into looking at viewer submission photos with me on Thanksgiving morning. I'd been bartending til 5am the night before so was running on like 3 hours of sleep. We drank some scotch.
Not much to say. Shot another wedding today. This one was different in its free-flowing, laid-back vibe. Most weddings I've shot have been heavily regimented and planned to oblivion, but this one just sort of floated along. It was a Buddhist ceremony(!), so I suppose the lack of rigid structure was appropriate. Actually, I don't really know if that's true. Still, it was a lovely ceremony with kind people. The reception was at the park where my high school cross country team practiced, but I'd never been to the lake/pond where we ended up. It was pretty neat.
Just got my roll of Portra 400 6x7 back from the camera store. Last weekend, my dad and I drove out to the Tifft Nature Reserve in Lackawanna. Tifft is a one-time garbage dump turned really-quite-lovely park in the middle of industrial South Buffalo. The light wasn't where I wanted when I took these, but I was anxious to shoot them all off and get to the Velvia 50 I brought, so here's what I got.
Man the Allentown Art Festival is the worst. Once a year, all the suburbanite Western New Yorkers drive their Toyota Highlanders into the big city to block my driveway and overpay for cheap tchotchkes. My buddy Dave and I went. He bought a coffee mug and we went to Aroma for drinks. I took some 35mm photos on Portra 160.
Then I shot the rest of the roll at City of Night at South Buffalo's old Silo City. That was, at least, fun.
The nonexistent rumors of my death being greatly exaggerated, I've returned to this dark corner of the internet to post my film failures. Turns out the Crown Graphic didn't have a light leak. The bright blotches popping up in my photos was a result of loading film holders and then not immediately packing them away in the darkness of a photo bag. So yeah... I learned my lesson, and they'll all look lovely from here on out. If I don't underexpose them. I shot off the rest of my Velvia and the results were disastrous. I've decided to finally bite the bullet and buy a spot meter, because Jesus Christ. Look at this garbage.
Whoops! My 40 year old light meter finally met its maker, so these were completely destroyed. 3 bucks a shot, down the drain.
These turned out a little bit better:
It's all relative though. I sort of hate them all. I'll get better. I promise!
Oh, and I bought this thing:
Mamiya RB67 6x7 medium format camera. I took this bad boy to Pittsburgh for a Premier League friendly and took some pictures. They aren't fine art, but they at least proved the camera works.
I cured my hangover with 4 beers and trudged out to the Buffalo Pride parade with my mother. I'm not gay or particularly proud of myself, but I enjoyed the parade.
Luckily, one of my mother's degenerate friends bought a case of Corona, and I was able to multiply my four beers into many more. I took my 70-200 2.8 along and took a bunch of photos.
And here they are, in all their glory.
Well, not all of them, obviously. I think I took something like 700, edited 100, and am posting like 8. So there's that.
So there you have it. The Gay Pride Parade in America's most underrated city. Maybe I'll post more later, but more likely I'll end up drunk with no interest in internet photography.
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to photograph the wedding of Jennifer and Pete Delmonte.
This ceremony was great, as the locations really showed off the beauty of this underrated city. The reception may have been in the suburbs, but the ceremony and portrait sessions were in the Elmwood area of Buffalo.
The weather cooperated with a beautiful, sunny June day. I did have some issues with my flash, but got things fixed and the ceremony went off without a hitch.
Knocked out my first wedding of the summer on Saturday. The rest should be interesting (brutal) since I'm starting a full-time job with a software company in a week. I ran into some relatively taxing difficulty with my gear, but managed to soldier through and create some pretty nice images. You can see a bigger selection on my Facebook page.
Fun fact: I've never shot slide. Not even a little bit. I've heard Velvia is really tough to work with, especially in high-contrast settings, so I was a little bit nervous as I packed up all my film gear and headed down to beautiful Lackawanna, New York.
Yes, I'm still shooting on the rickety Crown Graphic. Yes, I would like to upgrade. No, I don't have enough money to do that.
To be honest, it probably looks a lot like this image. I really just wanted to see how the Velvia rendered the scene. I feel fairly confident that I nailed the exposure, so I'm excited to see.
The second image was a variation on this:
This one's a little less representative, since it was shot hand-held in an effort to gauge the light. I was using my 5d to confirm my meter readings, and I just snapped a shot because it was pretty. I shot it at ISO800, at something like 1/100th of a second, so it represents the Velvia 100 at 1/4 of a second poorly, to say the least. It actually came out pretty overexposed before Photoshopping. What impact that will have on the Velvia is up in the air. The actual shot was tripod-mounted and composed more carefully. I'm curious to see how the exposure looks on that one. If all goes well I'll shoot a few more exposures this weekend. I may send them in right away to get an idea of how they look before I burn anymore film. Of course, they'll all be posted here.
Until next time.
So the polar vortex decided it liked upstate New York and has rolled back in for another week or two. In the event that winter never ends, that I die in this frozen hellhole, or that I lose interest and never post again, I felt I should offer an update on film photo land, for the 3 people who might be interested. In short, I've been holed up in my apartment, trying not to die of hypothermia, lens shopping.
In case you're interested, the Crown Graphic is currently listed on Ebay for a slightly exorbitant price: http://www.ebay.com/itm/231169783025?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649
I'm willing to move on that price. You know what they say: Aim for the moon. If you fall short, you'll end up suffocating in the frozen void of outer space.
In other news, I'm considering purchasing any and all of the following: the 16-35 L lens for the 5dmii, a Bronica or Mamiya 6x7 medium format film camera, a wooden folding 4x5 field camera from Zone VI or Wista. Any suggestions? Any gear to sell? Let me know!
Last weekend saw me trekking up the Godforsaken QEW (because in Canada, they name everything after another nation's monarch) to Toronto to pick the lady up post Taiwan visit. We actually had a great time. I brought the Minolta along, because the thought of losing the 5d to theft or drunken absentmindedness was too much to bear, and I actually got some nice shots. For what it's worth, Portra is now my favorite film. I'm actually not sure what Ektar brings to the table that Portra doesn't. If you know, please educate me. So we braved a mini-blizzard to eat noodles on Queen street and drink coffee at a Starbucks. Have you ever been to one of those? It was really good.
Mad photos of snow and KC's back. Enjoy.
Today, I got the remaining 4 negatives I had forgotten to mail last week. If you read all my updates, I'm sure you're pretty sick of this beach.
I actually sort of love this. This is essentially a straight scan, with no digital post-production. I never cease to be amazed by Portra's dynamic range. It's hard to see here, but the shadows retain detail, even in a shot that's metered for the sun. It's pretty cool.
Unfortunately, not all my photos worked out.
So I don't hate this photo, but it's obviously shot. Outside the off-center framing, I apparently caught the Crown Graphic's rail on the top of the image, while screwing with the lens tilt. This one was exposed for the sky, while the sun was still higher in the sky, and the lake turned bright gold for a minute. Rail in the photo, off-center sun, and problem with focus, but still... it's sort of nice looking. I'll try this one again. I'd love to attempt it with a split ND filter.
Stephen King once said that to be a writer, you have to be paid for something you've written. I think that's a fair criteria for a "professional" photographer. The dividing line between enthusiast and professional is the ability to earn a living from it and, while that qualifies me both as a writer and a professional photographer, it relegates my landscape photography to the realm of the amateur. I've never been paid for a landscape. I've given them to people as gifts, and been asked for signed copies by friends, but I've never made a penny on them. They remain a hobby, albeit one to which I dedicate most of my energy.
Taking pictures of people certainly isn't easy. It takes effort, charisma, timing. I get it. But landscape photography, in the right hands, is transformative. Look at Mitch Dobrowner, for example. He takes storms and southwestern landscapes and shapes them into postcards from hell, or venus, or somewhere. The potential of photography is to both record a moment, and mutate that moment into something entirely new. To freeze an image in time, and also create something totally unique. At its best, landscape photography exemplifies what's best about photography as an artform. You are recording, and you are creating.
I am no Mitch Dobrowner, or Ansel Adams, or anyone for that matter. I started landscape photography in earnest about a year ago and, while I get better every day, I'm hardly what anyone would call an expert. I do it because I love being outside. Landscape photography conditions you to see the world in ways you never had before. Where you might once have just driven to work, you now notice the clouds, and the light, and the sky. It forces you to really look at the world, to wring the beauty out of every frame.
Large format has proven to be the most extreme example of this, (a single large format exposure might take an hour to capture) but digital photography forces the same instincts to awaken. When my lady and I recently attended a wedding outside Ithaca, we stayed at a small bed and breakfast. Our first morning there, I climbed down to a small creek behind the house with my camera and a cup of coffee and took this picture.
Is it a perfect photo? Of course not. I stopped down too far, so it's soft, would rather have had fall foliage, etc etc etc, but who cares? It reminds me of something lovely, and is a lovely image on its own. This is, to me, the gift of photography.
Last summer, my father and I took a trip to British Columbia to visit friends and hike the trails north of Vancouver. While I captured plenty of beautiful images there, I'm struck by how many people prefer the photos I've taken of my own home town, Buffalo. The places I visited in Vancouver took my breath away, but I think my photographs of Western New York have a certain intimacy that maybe got lost in the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest.
I try to photograph my rust belt home like I would any beautiful scene. To wring the elegance from the decay. Buffalo may be getting nicer every day (it's true. I swear it is,) but the past still provides a powerful canvas for a motivated photographer.
Last summer, a friend and I drove down to South Buffalo's decaying grain elevators to take pictures. We spent some time outside shooting, until it looked like the sun was about cooked. "Guess that was the show," I said, and we headed into the silo. It smelled terrible, but I got some decent pictures. As the light faded, we decided to head outside, where we were greeted by a glorious sunset. I took a few photos that night but when we looked them over, my friend pointed and said "that's the one." I think I might like this photo more than other people do, and that's fine, but when I look at it, I see everything I love about photography. Here's a moment, frozen in, and somehow beyond, time.
Today, I got my negatives back. Last week, I went down to the frigid shore of Lake Erie at Buffalo's inner harbor to shoot some film. I took 6 exposures of 4x5 Portra 160 (I had shot the other 4 the night before, but somehow forgot to mail them,) and a roll of Ektar 100 35mm.
Long story short: The Minolta didn't hold up so well as a landscape shooter. I took most of my exposures at f16, and they look pretty bad. A large part of that is almost certainly the scanner. The E700 works well enough, but I'm certain that I'm losing a large amount of resolution and dynamic range. Still, they don't look awesome.
Coming off the large format, having 36 exposures to work with provided an almost unbelievable amount of freedom. I tried a variety of exposure settings, but I feel the images where I exposed for the sky look best. Keep in mind, these were taken after I'd run out of 4x5 film, and the sky was actually looking better. If I'd known, I would have saved one sheet of 4x5 for the sunset.
The 4x5 images, on the other hand, look pretty good. I wasn't shooting any sort of spectacular setting, so they aren't fantastic as photographs, but I finally feel like I've gotten the hang of exposure. The large format photos all came out properly exposed (with the exception of one screw up, which I'll get to in a second.)
For the first time, I really fiddled with lens tilt in these images. Wide open, this threw the majority of the image out of whack, but stopped down, it puts the entirety of the frozen lake in focus. The trick is remembering to stop it down after composing your image.
That image is fried. I set up the image and metered at f32, but forgot to stop the lens down before taking the shot. I actually realized this right after I took it, so I knew which one it was, but I opted to develop it anyway. The coolest part, I think, is you can see the lens tilt's narrow focus effect, even in the torched photo.
For fun, here's a crop from the above image. The resolution (even on the flatbed scanner) is pretty striking. The dynamic range of the Portra is amazing. I didn't change a thing in Photoshop. I vastly prefer the Portra to Ektar. I can add saturation in post, if need be. Between the dynamic range and accurate color reproduction, I'll be shooting that exclusively (after I try slide.)
So there you have it. I'll most likely post more of the 35mm stuff, but to be honest, a lot of it is pretty redundant. Also, I have a steak and Arrogant Bastard Ale waiting for me downstairs, so I'm going to stop thinking about photography for a minute.
This post will differ in that I'd like to discuss digital photography, specifically... gasp... wedding photography. Wedding photography may be the most maligned form of the art in existence. This hasn't been helped by the recent influx of folks, fresh off their recent DSLR purchase, who figure "why not? Easy money, right?"
Wedding photography may be many things, but easy is not one of them. The biggest challenge I find when I shoot weddings, outside the obvious difficulty of juggling personal interaction and technical challenges, is the delicate balancing act between commerce and art. In some circles, wedding photography is viewed as a sort of artlessly commercial endeavor - a chance to bang out a collection of predetermined shots and go home with a check. I feel that, while many who pursue that line of work does so for the perceived easy money, weddings offer a fascinating and challenging opportunity for artistic expression.
Where else do spend a day with complete strangers, totally immersed in one of the most important days in their personal lives? After the toasts and the dances, I always find myself driving home having connected on at least some level with the people I've worked with.
There's definitely something to be said for sharing in one of the most important days in the lives of a couple. You take on an enormous amount of responsibility in exchange for a chance to create something really beautiful.
So wedding photographers will continue to give wedding photography a bad name. Let em. Those of us who care will continue striving to improve, and working to never let anyone down when they're willing to put their faith in us. It's not something to take lightly, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
My initial jump into large format came after months of contemplating the idea. Try as I might, I couldn't get myself to pull the trigger on a $500+ folding camera like a Wista or Shenhao, and wasn't about to buy a more affordable studio camera to lug around in my backpack. The camera I finally settled on was a badly used Graflex Crown Graphic from ebay. The camera, with the lens and 3 film holders, cost $150, including the shipping. Is it ideal for landscape photography? Not really. The movements are extremely limited, and it won't fold up with my Fujinon 90mm mounted. Still, it was really really cheap, and it's hard to argue with that. What DSLR can you get for 200 bucks?
The lens that came on the camera was really a piece of junk. It's a Graflex Optar 135 (wide normal) that would, in great condition, probably be worth less than $100. It had no coverage for movements to speak of, was scratched pretty badly, and stuck for several seconds on any exposure longer than a quarter second.
As soon as I was able, I picked up a Fujinon 90mm f8 on KEH for around $300. This lens, which is roughly a 30mm or so on 35mm or digital, is a little bit more difficult to focus on the ground glass, but provides superior images. Plus, it's pretty.
So far, I've shot exclusively Ektar 100 and Black and White. I have a box of Kodak Portra 160 on the way from Amazon, so I'll have a broader range of experience with it soon.
When I get my negatives back, I run them through an Epson v700 flatbed scanner. If I ever take any really dynamic shots, I'll certainly get them drum scanned professionally.
Just for fun, here's a negative on my ghetto light table (a Kindle Fire running a flashlight app.)
And here's the same image after scanning.
So there you have it. A fully functional large format kit for about $400. That's what you'd pay for a Canon t3. Grab a tripod and cable release and you're ready to roll. My next move is to pick up an old Pentax Digital Spotmeter on KEH, then to upgrade to a wooden folding camera, and possibly buy a portrait lens. (Whatever money I make with the digital camera gets dumped into the large format.)
If you shoot large format, what's your setup? Where should I go from here?
So I'm drinking, I'm Youtubing, I'm buying film. Today, after my daily gym tryst, I hit the local camera store to pick up some 35mm color film. They don't sell much film, because they don't sell much besides Nikon and Canon crop sensor lenses for photographing your cats, but they had Ektar 100 and Portra 160. I grabbed both to pop in the Minolta and see what we'll see.
I'll take them out, shoot some photos, develop some negatives, and post that ish on here. First, the Ektar 100.
Then the Portra 160. Then some slide film (Provia and Velvia.) I'll gave to grab that on Amazon or Adorama, most likely.
Get ready. It's gonna be a wild ride.
Anyone who regularly shoots film in 2014 will tell you that it has its own look, totally distinguishable from digital. I tend to agree.
I spent a few months shooting my mom's old Minolta X-370, both in home-developed black and white and lab-processed color, and the results were, at the very least, interesting.
The images are at the mercy of my scanner (an Epson V700,) so I'm sure some of the shadow and highlight details are lost but, even so, I'm pleased with them. I'm especially fond of the black and white work, as it seems to carry an entirely different feel than that of digital photography. As always, the photos are mostly of that rust belt Utopia I call home, Buffalo.
As we continue our never-ending slog through the tide of technological advancements, photos become less and less the domain of the "photographer." After all, what is a photographer in 2014? The concept loses more relevance every day. As evidenced by my Facebook feed, any knucklehead can pick up a DSLR, start hammering out auto-mode pictures of newborns, and call himself a professional photographer. In the meantime, the democratizing effects of technology mean money and training are no longer obstacles to the creation of art. Some of the best photos I saw last year were on Instagram, of all places. But is it possible that, in our endless march toward progress, we've lost some of that magic that made photography special in the first place? I think so. Like vinyl albums or a well-read novel. there is something to be said for a photograph's presence. Its tactility. As we drown in a river of rapid-fire images, we lose the experience of creating an honest to God object, and I think that's a little bit disheartening.
So, in the interest of being a difficult, Luddite asshole, I resolved to take up the most arduous, finicky, and time-consuming form of photography in existence: Large Format. I browsed ebay for weeks, hesitant to pull the trigger until one night, emboldened with a six pack of Anderson Valley Summer Solstice, I placed a single drunk bid on a Graflex Crown Graphic press camera, and I won. The thing cost $150, smelled like my grandpa's house, and came coated in 60 years of cigarette smoke and dust. The nice lady who sold it to me told me it was in great shape, and that she'd included a set of three "photographic cartridges." Turns out the cartridges in question were film holders, and that the camera was actually in pretty good shape, outside a few dings and dents, and a scratched up lens that stuck on any exposure longer than 1/30 of a second. I took the thing apart, scrubbed the ground glass clean, and ventured out with a box of Ektar 100, ready to create mind-blowing images.
And I failed. And failed. And failed some more. To start with, I began metering with a cell phone app. Let me tell you from personal experience that a cell phone is a light meter in the same sense that a ipod is a watermelon. My first box of film came back hideously overexposed, and all but unusable. Any and all attempts to fix it in Photoshop were met with failure. So I stole my dad's 1970s era light meter, and tried again.
This time, the images were a little more successful. I had read online that Ektar - a notoriously demanding color negative film - should be metered at ASA 50 or 64, and had taken that (pretty bad) advice to heart, so my images were still coming out pretty overexposed. But at least this time, I finally felt like I was on the right track.
Large format is slow. Like, glacial slow. Sloths mainlining opium slow. A single shot takes me at least a half hour to set up, and my journey towards usable images has resulted in twice as many fried sheets of film as finished photos. Still, there's something undeniable about it. It's the very slowness of the process that I find so addicting. With large format, you're forced to really see what you're shooting. The ritual that accompanies every shot is intoxicating. Landscape photography is not my career. I do it because I enjoy being outside and creating beautiful images. The process of large format photography forces you to immerse yourself in the scene. To really sit back and see the world around you. It's wonderful.
Now would be a good time to point out that large format actually has some advantages. To begin with, the image quality is outrageous. A 4x5 negative is about 14 times bigger than a 35mm negative (or full frame sensor.) This results in images equaling something over 100 megapixels. If you want to create really large prints, that's a big deal. Most large format cameras (though not my POS) also offer a large number of movements. With movements you can adjust for perspective, change the focus plain, and achieve any number of other effects in camera, all without touching Photoshop.
It goes without saying that I'd never shoot a wedding in Large Format. In fact, I only feel confident working with landscapes, as they aren't likely to move very far, and won't complain if I screw things up. But there are times when I don't miss the ruthless efficiency of digital. I enjoy the way the film holder snaps into place, the feel of the cable release, the anticipation of my negatives in the mail.
I have yet to take a really great large format photo. Honestly, who knows if I ever will. But who cares? Maybe soon I'll be back in Photoshop, exposure stacking and layer adjusting to my little heart's content, chasing a form of perfection that only exists in a world of ones and zeros. For now, I'm happy sitting by a frozen beach, sipping a beer and waiting for the light to get just right. If you can't appreciate that, you and I don't take pictures for the same reason.