Never Shoot at Box Speed

When using an artistic medium such as film, there are many considerations that are in play when deciding just which film to pick. Color and B&W aside; box speed is a primary determinant factor in what, how, and where you’re going to be able to shoot. If it’s golden hour almost dusk, most shooters most likely will stick to a 400-and-above speed film, just the same as someone may choose a 100 speed film to shoot in that harsh mid-day sun.

For those unaware of pushing and pulling film, this simply refers to shooting your film over or under the box speed. i.e. 400 speed pushed to 800 would be +1. The +() only really comes in handy when you need to make a personal note of, or let your developing lab know what you’d like the film to be developed at. BW and Slide films are often more finicky about being pushed or pulled in the sense that they need to be developed as they were shot. Color film is quite different, you can have a roll of Portra 800 and shoot it at 100 or even 200 and still get beautiful results. This is what’s known as latitude; essentially how much a film can handle before having issues. Therefore, by intentionally over or underexposing your film you can achieve some pretty cool results.

All of the fancy terms aside, shooting your film over or under can mean a few things: color shifts, highlights, shadows, and grain alterations. Take that Portra 800 for example, it’s a rather well saturated stock with a medium amount of grain. When shot at 400 or 200 it can appear almost dreamy, kind of heavy air if that makes sense. This is a trick often used by portrait and wedding photographers. The biggest key is that while you may shoot your film over or under the box, you do nothing different when developing. This can be nice for home developers because that means you won’t have to wait for multiple rolls to get the most life out of your chems.

As most things in photography are easier to show, this happens to be one of them. So, in order of top left to bottom right we have: Portra 800 shot at 640, Portra 800 shot and developed at 3200, Pro400h shot at 200, and Portra 800 shot at 400.

 

Hopefully this helps give those out there the push they needed to experiment! As always, have fun and keep shooting!

Large Format Update

With my recent acquisition of an Epson v600 I’m finally able to scan at levels comparable to that of my lab. Whereas previously I had been using my D750, the v600 easily achieves proper tones for color, and perfect balancing for black and white. There is unfortunately one downfall in the Epson and that is the size of the scanner itself, it’s a narrow band in the center of the device. So that means no full 4×5 scans for now…or so they thought. I found an easy way around this; scan the 4×5 in two halves while maintaining the same settings for each scan and then stitching the two parts together in photoshop. Albeit a lengthy solution, it’s still quicker than the time I’d spend shooting and processing with my Nikon.

Scanner aside, I’ve improved my shooting and developing workflows to be as efficient and yield the highest quality possible. I’ll include my dev notes in a later post as I feel there are many out there that may appreciate a brief version of dev notes.

In terms of what I’ve been shooting, most of the subject matter happens to be landscapes or abandoned barns/active churches. In other words, not many portraits are being made on the big boi. That is something I hope to change, especially after developing a batch of Portra 400 for a friend and seeing one of his portraits. Large format has the ability to add a beautiful universe of depth to an already incredible subject matter. So much to the point that it’s as if the negative itself has now become art. So, I’d say look out in the coming weeks for some portraits shot on large format…hopefully more interesting than just standard portraits. Maybe some people doing flips, or just anything unique that presents itself!

 

Instead of more words, I’m just going to show you some of my recent large works. Enjoy!

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First Time Shooting and Developing 4×5

The other day I had a chance to finally shoot my Omega View 45c that’s been sitting for about a week. I hadn’t been able to get a hold of film holders at the time of purchase, but I did have everything thing else. My coworker gave me three film holders and has since given me one more, but along with those holders he gave me some HP5 for testing purposes. HP5 is like an old friend that you haven’t seen in years, but you also saw ten minutes ago; it’s just so familiar and second-nature to be around.

For the shot set-up, I ran a single soft box and a black backdrop to keep a clean aesthetic that complimented the BW nature of HP5. The first shot I attempted was a two second exposure of our fig leaf plant which subsequently failed due to proper planning. The leaf itself was well exposed, however the remainder of the frame was blown out. I’ll include that lost shot below. The second and best shot I took out of my three was of Leigh. I found out the hard way how f/5.6 on large format is equivalent to f/1.2 on full frame/35mm. In other words, an extremely small portion of the shot was in complete focus.

For the development process I decided to try a rather unorthodox method, and maybe not completely archival method for that matter. By using a Patterson 3-reel tank with a Mod 54 insert, I loaded up my film in the dark bag and prepared everything else. The only chemicals I used were Cinestill’s monobath which yields some pretty neat results albeit quite contrasty and grain intensive. I unfortunately forgot to insert the black plastic spindle that sits into the center of the mod 54, preventing any unwanted light leaks between chemicals and water washes, etc. This error caused a very slight light leak in the upper right corner of the shot of Leigh, just a part of the learning process.

The development steps I use are pretty straight forward:

Step 1: increase temp to 80 by flowing warm water over

Step 2: fill tank with water at temp to warm the tank

Step 3: pour the Cinestill monobath into the Patterson tank, beginning the timer once poured

Step 4: agitate tank evenly for 2:40, pour back into Cinestill container for future use

Step 5: by following these agitations steps, fill with new water in between each set

5 agitations

10 agitations

20 agitations

5 agitations

Step 6: remove film, dry, and enjoy!

 

Hope you all enjoyed this short article, I’ll continue documenting the large format process as I improve both in composition and development skills. As always, keep shooting film!

 

The Endless Dilemma—HP5 or 400TX?!?

For those of us who prefer shooting B&W for street photography, I’m sure you’re well aware of the various options available. While there are many ways you can choose a stock, I prefer to base my selections depending on the aesthetic I’m hunting for. I often want high-contrast and high detail for some of the work that I do; I find it adds that extra touch that’s hard to describe, but it’s just there. When I’m not looking for a contrasty film, I want a nice sharp and gentle shadow look—typically found in Ilford Delta 100 or Kodak T-Max 100.

When it comes down to it and you want a nice versatile BW film that can be pushed out the wazoo and give you every inch of detail, HP5 and 400TX are strong contenders. I often have a hard time determining whether I enjoy one or the other, therefore I continue to shoot with both. Unlike color film and how prices can be scattered, making the decision on one versus another a bit easier, these two are unfortunately within 50 cents of each other. So, take your frugal decision making-self out of the choice…what now? How can you possibly decide? Maybe you could play the brand-loyalty card; every shooter has their preference of Kodak and Ilford, but can that really be the deciding factor? Maybe you like buying film in bulk, that’s a quick method of choosing as HP5 is ~$20 less than 400TX is. But that just doesn’t seem fair to put the two against each other for brand loyalty, or price-points; what really makes the case is what you like most.

Here’s how this will work, I’m going to put up two shots side-by-side without any hint towards which brand it is. At the very end of the article you can discover which you liked most!

 

You have made it! To the bottom of the page that is, and the answers you’ve been patiently awaiting. I’ll list out the film stock in order from left to right, and are as follows: 400tx, hp5, 400tx, 400tx, hp5, hp5, and finally 400tx. Let it be noted that the photo of the man in the hat was shot on a roll where I pushed it to 1600. I’m currently waiting to get back my roll I pushed all the way to 3200 so we’ll see how that goes.

I hope you enjoyed reading this short little comparison of the two and maybe it helped you arrive at a conclusion on which stock you prefer more. All the same, keep it analog, and have fun shooting!

A Small Victory – The Rollei 35 Rangefinder

Long have I awaited the day that I find a Rollei 35 in both a wonderful condition and a low price. Well, let me tell you that that day has come and will continue to give me joy. The compact and cute nature of this camera are nothing short of a marvel. Coming from shooting on a full-bodied Minolta let alone my 750, the size difference is incredible! A telescopic lens allows the Rollei to be pocketed at a moment’s notice, transforming your tiny Zeiss-lens powerhouse into a weekend getaway. I find myself constantly smiling while shooting with this simply due to its form factor. How could you not fall in love with a camera this small!?!?

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While this rangefinder is not as easy to focus in perfectly, it’s definitely worth taking the time to perfect your art. For those unfamiliar with the configuration of the camera, the viewfinder is nothing more than a reference for framing. There’s no mirror redirecting an image towards a viewfinder, so instead, you have to be hyper-familiar with either feet or meters, and more so being able to judge the distance to your subject. Along with the lens, all of the physical controls are spectacular to look at and to use. Beginning with the front dials, you have your iso and aperture to the left of the lens, and your shutter speed and light setting to the right of the lens. What is this light settingI speak of? It’s pretty awesome actually, especially for a body designed in the early 70s. There are four options: Negative, Color Negative, Natural Light, and Artificial Light. As far as the difference in the four go, I’m still experimenting with each decently. I plan on shooting a roll and focusing on each setting per roll, then comparing the rolls to see if there really is a difference or if it’s merely a white-balance effect that it has.

The aperture and iso dials are my favorite dials on the entire body. The aperture locks in as you increase the dial towards f/22, only unlocking when you press a small locking pin at the base of the dial. The iso dial took me a hot second to actuallymove; I found that it’s best to have a bit of nails for this step because you actually have to lift the dial up slightly to then rotate it for the arrow to point at your desired iso. Apart from the directionality of such dials, there’s a wonderfully satisfactory clickas you reach each F stop. Want to go all the way to 22? Sounds like a plan! Click click click clicktimes twenty, and you’re finally there! It’s definitely one of those “smaller moments” in life type of thing where you just have to appreciate Rollei for implementing a wonderfully super analog sound.

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Speaking of sound, I find the coolest thing about this camera, which also makes it a great choice for discreet street photography, is the silent shutter. It’s no more of a click than a Seagull medium format, it’s maybe no louder than the engagement of a Pilot G2 pen. Apart from the silent shutter, the mechanical nature of the film loading is also quite interesting. Due to the compact nature of the body, you slide the entire base and back plate off with the flip of a switch. This reveals a channel for your roll of film to sit it nice and cozy, but that’s not even the best part. The best part is the pressure plate for the film itself. Instead of the pressure plate being on the back plate, it’s a hinge-door that flips away from the body to reveal the inner workings of the lens, and guide marks to place your film. In terms of loading film, I find it to be incredibly fast because you can reverse feed it. Well, sort of. Depending on how you typically load film this may not apply, but with my other 35 and my medium format, I typically feed the film leader in one direction, and rotate along the same direction. With the Rollei, I feed the film opposite, making it stand a bit tall at first, then once you begin winding it becomes taught and flush. Whether that’s the standard way for some of you, I’ve found it to be my preferential method of loading film into this tiny thing. Also, worth mentioning is the location of the hot shoe and winding mechanism. Both of which are on the bottom of the camera, as well as the frame indicator for what you’re at.

It’s these little features of design choice on Rollei’s behalf that make me so happy to look at and shoot with it. As always, keep shooting, and keep it analog!

Below are images from the first roll of 400 TX I shot with on the little Rollei. Enjoy!

Why Ektar 100 Rocks!!!

Out of the various film stocks I’ve shot with, I have to say that my favorite color grain is Ektar 100. This is only one slot ahead of Vista Pro 200 because well, who doesn’t love it?

There are several defining characteristics of a color negative film that I look for. Of course, there’s the color aspect of it, ROYGBIV and grain however I often try and find how true the white and black levels are. In terms of the color science of Ektar, I find the Red and Blues to be unique; the reds are quite muted, almost a coral-like appearance while the blues are very loud yet gentle in saturation. The yellow and greens are very soft and gentle yet they’re simultaneously perfect. My eyes don’t receive certain colors too well, namely the blue through violet end of the spectrum. I often have a tricky time with telling the vibrancy of certain photos where there’s a dominant amount of blue sky or ocean blues. With that said, Ektar is very pleasing for me to look at because I don’t have to strain my eyes to recognize certain tones and vibrancies. I love the subtle differences between shooting inside and outside with this film because while outside you receive gentle and rich tones, you get warm and robust images when shooting inside. It’s almost the difference between having a cup of iced coffee versus having a well-brewed cup of Guatemalan coffee.

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Most important photo to begin with is none other than this nice French press, f/1.7 Minolta XG-A. To start, I want you to take notice of how rich the wood of the table is along with the reflections along the press. The rich saturation of brown/orange tones in the grain of the wood is extremely comforting. As a frequent coffee shop attendee, and past barista, this image takes me to a solemn pocket of relaxation and comfort.

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This photo is more artistic than I often shoot, but I wanted to see what I got from an out of focus shot, f/1.7. This was taken inside of another local coffee shop of mine. This space has nothing short of infinite wonders to capture. The best thing I can recognize here is how the red and yellows are treated inside of a darker interior space. If you’ll notice, the reds are much less saturated while the white and yellow tones are very true to their nature of color.

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This rusty old post…f/5.6. Most noteworthy here is how mellow the rust is. There’s almost a bit of a haze to this photo, and while the grain is super fine, the rust truly pops.The shading on the left post still allows us to see the detail hidden within while retaining it’s masquerading nature.

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This was the most interesting shot in terms of color science…f/8. The red of the American flag is rich and vibrant, very much unlike the rest of shots I took on this role. The blue almost appears as if it’s black, while the grey/black of the roof looks almost green to me. Then we have the taupe and brown brick of the courthouse; the vintage punch of color I get from this is the oddest yet most interesting shot I got off of the role.

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The campus painter, f/4.5. Saving the best for last, this shot is in my top ten for the year—digital or analog. I find the level of detail and fine grain of the shot to be absolutely wonderful, and almost anti-film aesthetic. Fret not! The color here is where is gets interesting because take a glance at the red his brush was applying. There’s a taillight red sorta vibe I get from this. The wood-grain of the easel was rich and full again, just like that of the coffee shops table. Lastly, the blue and black saturation in this shot. Looking at his shirt, the bottle cap, and the black on the canvas really let me get a feel for how black is captured in this film stock. It’s a perfect gentle touch of dark, while retaining slight hints of lightness from exterior lighting. The blue of his cap absolutely jumps off of the page. I love how there’s an almost metallic appeal of his top.

Overall, Ektar is an amazing stock of film. I’ve yet to shoot with my roll of Portra or buy a roll of Ektachrome. But in my mind Ektar is definitely the one to beat. The fine grain, the color saturations and vibrancies, lights and darks, AND most importantly the warmth of the images makes this my favorite color stock out there. I’ll be excited for when I can get my hands on a roll of Ektachrome to compare the two. Until the next time, keep shooting and keep it analog!

 

My Time With Expired Kodak Gold 200

It’s been about six months since I began shooting with film; both 35 and medium format. While six months sounds like a long time, for the world of film it really is nothing more than a blip. That said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the learning process, and have much more to learn.

My greatest difficulty has been understanding what aperture truly does to an image. On my D750, stopping down my aperture means I’ll have a wider DOF with almost everything in focus, however I will also need a slower shutter speed to account for the lack of light. Shadow recovery and messing with highlights after the fact is quite easy to manage. This has not been the case with the rolls of film I’ve shot with. I find that while yes, a sharper aperture means I’ll have more in tack-sharp focus, I also have almost similar amounts of light. Obviously, this is all dependent on the box speed I’m shooting at, but if I were shooting 400 during the day, and I stop my aperture down to f/22, I’m going to have tack sharp focus with very little side effect on my shadow and contrast. This is the benefit of the iso you choose to shoot with, because while a digital sensor will have noise in an image at higher iso’s, film will also have its own cruxes for certain speeds.

Why exactly am I telling you about how aperture affects an image? Well it’s quite simple, shooting with film or a digital camera is wonderful when you have your settings dialed in…but what if something were to inhibit that? I’ve found myself wanting more and more challenges in terms of shooting, and I often come back to one thing: expired film. It’s a complete gamble when you pick up an old roll of film that’s past due. I’ve shot with rolls as old as 23yrs expired, and as young as four years expired. The fact remains that what will occur is nothing more than uncertain.

My most recent endeavor with expired film has been a roll of Kodak Gold 200 that expired sometime in 2011. I chose to shoot this roll at 400 to see how much I could do with it, and I will say I was shocked by the results of some of my shots. I found myself becoming rather frustrated in all honesty, because I did lose some wonderful shots due to the expired nature of the film. The greatest impact to the film itself was the blacks, shadows, and color balance. My familiarity with kodak gold images are of a sultry, smooth aesthetic similar to gentle browns and oranges, with rather vibrant blues, washed out red/yellows, and mellow greens. Many of my shots were rather unique when it came to color balance. I am aware that my choice of shooting at +1 probably impacted the images to an extent, however, I do not regret that decision.

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This was the very first shot taken on the roll, f/17 @400. Here you can see the blues are a nice deep saturation, with a gentle gradient from the top to the bottom of the image. also worth noting is the color noise present in the upper left areas; I’m fairly certain that’s due to the scanner, but I can’t know for sure as I don’t have access to many scanners.

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Here’s a wonderful example of where a shot went okay…f/13 @400. The red and blues are a wonderful mix of vibrant and gentle, with a side of umph. The shadows along the base of the porch are extremely dark, however that was more of a stylistic choice on my behalf due to my disdain towards the previous, ultra-grainy shadows.

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An interior coffee and cheesecake shop, f/1.7 @400. I really quite like this image as it has a kinda 90’s feel to it. something about the color of the wall mixed with the brick and golden sheen of the display case is eerie, yet comforting and delectable all at the same time.

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Another good example of how the color science is with this roll…f/9 @400. The red and yellow are rather vibrant, but desaturated all whilst the blue remains to be a deep and powerful mix of flat and sharp. Most notable in this is the presence of rust along the solder points of the figure. The gradient from brown to gold, then silver and black is quite interesting to see.

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An obelisk in town…f/22 @400. The dark nature of the sculpture in the foreground is no doubt related to my choice of aperture, however in this case I was going for a silhouette approach. I wanted the figure to appear so massive that it blocked out the sun, leaving nothing but darkness on the viewers behalf while also being able to see the beautiful plump clouds behind. An odd choice of balance probably, somewhat chaos and peace simultaneously, but it wound up working out.

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I think this was the best image produced from this roll…f/18 @400. There are two things occurring here; First is the composition of the image. I’ve been unable to capture the density of the buildings here in downtown Greensboro at this single spot for quite some time, however I believe I’ve finally done it. From the bridge to the building, and then the bank tower behind, I can really get a sense of dense clutter, but also maintaining a beautiful level of architectural symmetry. The second thing worth mentioning in this photo is that the dark and light color balance occurring is phenomenal. This image had some of the finest grain out of the entire roll, and I can’t quite tell why that would be. I’d love to find out, that’s for sure.

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The last image is my least and second-most favorite…f/1.7 @400. I really wanted to finally capture a decent portrait of my friend on film, this was not the day it seems. Even with the aperture open all the way and the shutter somewhere around 1/60 of a second, I couldn’t dodge the silhouette bullet. While I enjoy my earlier silhouette, this was actually supposed to let you see his face. Oh well, in the name of science, right? Rather than being able to enjoy a nice portrait and give it to my friend, I’m now thinking of  the “who’s that Pokemon?!?!” intermediary before and after commercial breaks. At least this will produce a good meme for us.

All in all, I quite enjoyed shooting with the expired roll of gold. While yes, shooting any roll of film feels the exact same, there is a dash of extra intrigue and excitement when I shoot with expired rolls. It’s that sense of not knowing whether an image will actually work out. Of course with any roll of film you have a level of uncertainty, especially with my medium format (no light meter, just sheer ability to understand light and composition). But I say again, expired film is a complete gamble; you never know what you’ll get!

 

Here are some of the shots that didn’t quite make the notable cut, but I still really enjoyed them.