Sunday, April 29, 2012

Incompetence As Artistic Expression

"Unintentional Grunge" March 2012, Chicago, IL
(Canon F1, 24mm 2.8, Ilford FP4+, home developed and scanned)
Some photographers spend a lot of time and effort getting that "grunge" look for their photographs. They apply layers, filters and textures to make their pristine, perfectly exposed images look dingy, scratchy and poorly handled. I wonder if they know they can save themselves all that trouble with the application of traditional analog processes.

For example, to achieve the image above was simple three-step process: 1) don't open the gate on your bulk loader while rolling up a cartridge of film, thereby scratching the bloody $#!^% out of the film emulsion; 2) after developing the the roll at home, drop the still damp strip of film onto some carpet near the cats' litter box; and 3) scan as normal. Voila! Scratches aplenty; muck and "texture" galore all over the image.

And to think that if I had tried to emulate this look digitally, it might have taken me hours to get that "screwed up negative" look just right. All this took was a couple of moments of being an idiot.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Soup Time!

Film developing tanks full and ready for processing (Panasonic GF-1 w/20mm f/1.7)
I think there might be something a little wrong with me that the above image makes me smile with anticipation. This plus almost a dozen more rolls of color negatives on their way back from Dwayne's Photo, means a whole lot of scanning and hopefully some good images to post.

While I've recently finished up scanning several rolls of negatives that were shot to test a couple of new emulsions, the resulting images are kind of disappointing and a lot of them were scratched to kingdom come due to my own ineptitude. (Pro tip - read the instructions for using a daylight loader before spooling up several rolls of film incorrectly.) Better hopes for the new group.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

As Changeable As The Weather

Easy to make a commitment to shooting mostly black and white in the middle of a gray, Chicago winter. But then Spring arrives early and you begin to rethink all your plans . . .

"Too Early Magnolias" - March 2012, Chicago, IL (Panasonic GF-1, Lumix 20mm f/1.7)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Winter Pines

February 2012, Chicago, IL (Holga 120N, Ilford 3200, home developed and scanned)
So I got relatively caught up on the processing, scanning and editing of a bunch of photography that had been languishing away . . . and then promptly fell behind all over again. Not quite as much time on my hands in recent weeks as earlier this year, which is a good thing actually, but posting might get somewhat thinner. Will continue to put stuff up as as can - and will perhaps get around to finishing up some non-photography related posts that I have been kicking around for awhile.

Still loving doing my own black & white film developing. Lots more of that to come. Maybe a little Spring color as well.

Friday, March 16, 2012

OOF (Out of Focus Fridays) - "Mood Ring"

March 2012, Chicago, IL (Polaroid Land 250 camera, Fuji FP-100C film)
This is the window storefront portion of a local greenhouse. Image was taken on a very cold night, through the fogged window glass. I like this shot, even though I don't think it is actually a very "pleasing" image and I'm actually not sure it really "works." The colors, while technically warm tones, come across to me as a bit sickly and cold. And the forms of the plants in the window are completely unidentifiable as such. A fouled aquarium? Alien viscera? A generally poor photographic execution of a bad idea? Your call.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Secret Garden (More Kodak Ektar 100 Shots)

All images: 35mm Kodak Ektar 100, Canon Elan 7ne, Canon 17-40mm f/4L.
(October 2011, Benicia, California)
Okay, maybe not so secret. These are all images taken at K's parents' home. They have this wonderfully eclectic backyard that I always take time to photograph whenever I am there. It also was another great opportunity to do additional testing of the Kodak Ektar film. As I've mentioned previously, once you figure out how to scan it the results are really spectacular - bright, saturated colors and good contrast. As long as this film is available, I'm afraid my Velvia 50 slide film will not be seeing much love. Looking forward to trying out this film in medium format once Spring hits and there is a little color in the landscape again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Film Test: Kodak Ektar 100 (The E-6 Killer?)

A somewhat atypical Ektar shot. Lots of light and little overexposure gives this a bit of a pastel look. The true colors of the scene were not nearly so vibrant, however.
Everyone was raving about Kodak's relatively new film, Ektar 100, so I had to give it a try myself. Kodak originally just released it in 35mm, but the film was so popular that they now carry it in 120 and large format, as well as 35mm. K and I were heading out to the Bay Area in California in October of last year for a marathon that she was running and to visit family, and I knew this would provide a perfect opportunity to test out the film. I bought five 36-exposure rolls of the stuff before the trip and shot all of them over the course of the week we were there.

Overall, I was really impressed with the film. As everyone else who as already been converted over to Ektar has already said, the film provides awesome color, extremely fine grain, is much more forgiving than slide film as to exposure and has a much wider exposure latitude than you will get with digital. It's not a perfect film - there is a little too much saturation for general purpose/snapshot photography for my taste, and it has nowhere near the exposure versatility that you would get with Kodak Portra 400 - but it appears to be a really spectacular film for landscape work.

With this film in their stable, and the generally niche market status of slide film these days, I don't think its any surprise that Kodak recently made the decision to discontinue the production of all consumer slide (E-6) films. While the film originally was only available in the "miniature" 35mm format, Kodak has really targeted this film to landscape photographers over the past year or so, and I have to think that the possibility of discontinuing the slide films was part of the impetus behind that push.

I am going to spread out the test shots over a few posts. The images in this post are all from a little park that is nearby to K's parents house, Benicia State Park. K went for a run and I hung out and played the part of the creepy guy in the bushes with a camera. Fun times.

If I was being more technical about my testing, I would have shot everything using a tripod and made several bracketing exposures for each image. If I really wanted to be technical, I would have shot the same scenes with one or two other films for direct comparison. I generally don't have the patience (or the wallet) for such testing, however, and this time was no exception. When I "test" a film, I just take it out shooting and see what I think when I look at the pictures. I generally use one company for all of my color film developing these days, and the rest of the post-processing is done by me, so I generally can expect any observed differences to be the result of the film and not some odd link in the processing chain. My impressions are highly subjective and not meant to be a technical review of the film. I know what I like for how I shoot, your mileage may vary.

All shots taken using fresh-dated, 35mm Kodak Ektar 100, shot at box speed with my Canon Elan 7ne and a 17-40mm f/4L lens. Metering was done using the camera's internal meter with some over/under exposure compensation, depending on the scene. Development was done by Dwayne's Photo. Scans were done by me, using an Epson V600 and Vuescan software with the infrared dust removal option set on "Light." Images were resized, along with some slight cropping and sharpening  using Adobe Lightroom 3.

The film really captured the warmness of the early-morning sun well and delivered great detail. I've gotten a bit spoiled by medium format, but even with 35mm in the full scan of this image, the branches are distinct and crisp (even handheld without a tripod).

Colors are nicely saturated, especially greens and reds. The film provides a good definition between close color tones as well, such as in this scene where the tan/yellow tones overlap each other.

Ektar loves red - the berries are bright and saturated, without losing detail or getting muddy as can happen with some other films, and which can be a huge problem with digital cameras.

Ektar also loves light - compare the color rendition here (where the main subject is mostly shaded) to the shot above (where the shade is offset by some reflected sunlight and a lot more light in the background). This shot shows a distinct color shift into the blues, which is fairly typical for shaded subjects shot on negative film. While the saturation of the red berries seems about the same, to my eye the green of the leaves is much less saturated than in the shot above.

Ektar handled this high contrast scene really well. The sun itself is blown out, which was expected, but the highlights on all the grass hold details and there is detail in even the deepest shadows.

Not sure what is going on in the upper right corner on this one, maybe a scanning artifact as it doesn't appear to be on the negative. Same subject as the first shot, above, but without the slight overall overexposure. Again, the film handles the flare and high contrast in this shot wonderfully. I'm not sure I was ever able to get this kind of performance out of slide film.
Some more test shots to come, but I think that this film could well become my go to color film for landscapes. It really does not seem to like caucasian skin tones, although I've seem a few photographers who seem to know the right voodoo to get good portrait results. I've still got some nice Velvia 50 and Provia 100 slide film in my freezer, but that may get relegated to use for cross processing. The Ektar really does deliver a very "slide-like" look - high contrast and saturation, with little to no visible grain - and is much easier to work with and more forgiving on exposure. From what I can see, you can still get pretty good results with shooting this a stop or two over and perhaps a stop under. Slide film gives you maybe a third to a half stop in either direction by comparison. Since almost all of my shooting these days is on older cameras, many without internal metering (or with unreliable metering), having that extra exposure latitude can be the difference between getting the shot and wasting film.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lou & Alexander II

Chicago Lakefront, September 2009 (Canon 40D, 70-200mm F/4L, ISO 100, 1/800 sec @ f/4)
Still working through some final, overlooked sections of my archives. I shot this while I was wandering the South end of the Lakefront Path, waiting for K to finish a long training run.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Alcatraz, November 2010 (Holga 120N, Kodak Tri-X 400)
Second pass at some of my early Holga shots. I had taken the Holga out for some test shooting, but when I took it on K and I's vacation to San Francisco in the last part of 2010 I was determined to really put it through its paces. Put about ten rolls of film through it, but did not get a lot of keepers as I still wasn't use to the quirks of shooting with the Holga. Alcatraz Island is pretty much a perfect setting for the Holga. Would love to go back there again and do some more shooting now that I have a better sense of how to work with this camera.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rolling Stock

 June 2010, Chicago, Illinois (Canon 40D / 17-40mm f4.0 L / 1/250 @ f4)
Not much bicyling-relating posting of late. I don't even have a decent excuse, as it has been an unusually mild winter this year. Will have to shake the dust off of my bone shakers and get back on the bike soon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter In The Bone

December 2011, Chicago, Illinois
(Agfa B-2 Cadet, Fomapan 400 120 film, home developed and scanned)
K said she would like to see this printed big - something along the line of several feet across. This does get cooler as it gets bigger, maybe one day when I'm fabulously wealthy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Out Of Focus Fridays (OOFF) - Step Into My Parlour

October 2011, Benecia, California (Canon Elan 7ne, Kodak Ektar 100, 17-40mm f/4.0)
So a dear, old friend (or is that an old, dear friend at this point), tells me that she "wants to go with me" on these out of focus experiments, but they make her head hurt. This one is for her: a little slice of focus on the right side of the spiderweb will give her eye something to rest on, and hopefully keep her little head from aching too bad.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Morning Herald

October 2011, Benecia, California (Canon Elan 7ne, 17-40mm f/4.0, Kodak Ektar 100 film)
An angel figurine in one of K's parents spare bedrooms. The statue can actually look quite creepy at night, but I loved the way the lace curtains diffused the morning light coming through the window for this shot. To get the statue to be more than just a silhouette, I had to use a very slow shutter speed. No tripod, just bracing my back against the side of the bed as I squatted down to get the angle.

Quite impressed with the Ektar 100 film, although it was a little tricky to get the film to scan correctly. Will probably do a longer write-up on the film later, but short version seems to be that it is a really nice color negative film that gives almost slide-like results, but with a lot more exposure forgiveness. Not a perfect film - does a horrible job rendering skin tones for white people - but damn good, nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

North Side Space Port

Holga 120 WPC, Kodak T-Max 400, Home developed and scanned
November 2011, Chicago, Illinois
One of the CTA elevated train stations near our apartment. Shot with another one of my plastic cameras: the Holga Wide Pinhole Camera, which takes 120 film and gives you a 6cm x 12cm size negative. Never done much with pinholes before, but I like what I am getting with this camera. More coming soon.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Digital Darkroom: Scanning Black & White Film In Color

This post is about being reminded that while trial and error can be lead one down creative roads that would otherwise remain unexplored, it can also send you down the wrong path without even being aware that there might be a better way.

It's a basic fact of modern photography that almost all film shooters are also digital, even if they don't own a single digital camera. Unless all you want to do is make wet prints in the darkroom to pass around by hand, you are going to need to find a way to digitize your analog images if you want them to get seen. Most people don't even deal with paper prints anymore - they shoot on digital, post images to Facebook, Flickr and etc. or maybe email digital photo files to friends, family and like, all of which get viewed on some type of monitor.

"New Year Light" - January 1, 2012, Chicago, Illinois
(Canonet QL-17, Fomapan 400 film, home developed and scanned)
The final, post-processed "color scan" of the black & white negative. The negative was scanned as a 24 bit color image (RGB) and outputted to a 24 bit RGB TIF file. There is much more detail in the shadow areas and much smoother transitions between tones than any of the Grayscale scans of the same negative, even when saved at the highest Grayscale bit setting.
If you are shooting film, getting that image converted to a digital file means getting a scan somewhere along the line. You can scan prints, of course. And scanning a print is relatively straightforward. Even low-end scanners will generally give you a decent scan of a color or black & white print. But a scan of a print is, at best, a third-hand representation. The negative is used to make the print, which is used to make the scan - each step in the chain represents a potential loss of detail and degradation of the image.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Everything

"Happy Everything" (December 2011, Chicago)
Ilford Delta 3200, Holga 120n, home developed in Ilford DD-X

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"The Impossible Project" . . . Perhaps Too Aptly Named?

This is a post about giving up on a good idea.

My old, super cool SX-70 camera and some "re-imagined" instant film from The Impossible Project. Such a good idea, going nowhere fast. (Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7)

I really, really wanted the people over at The Impossible Project to succeed. I bought a decent amount of their early attempts, knowing that what I was actually doing was subsidizing their research, rather than purchasing a viable film format at that time. And the initial progress was hopeful - the films got better. Unfortunately, they never got "good."

"Gotham" (September 2010, SX-70, TIP PX 100 film)
This is one of my early attempts with TIP film, and still probably my favorite result. Temperature sensitivity has made the TIP films very difficult to work with out of doors here in Chicago, where the temps tend to reside at either end of the extreme and are rarely settled into the 60-70 degree range where the film seems to work best.

As TIP has gone forward, it seems that the emphasis has shifted. From my perspective, it seems like TIP has essentially abandoned the idea of developing a true replacement for the Polaroid integral films, and are now just intent on milking the hipsters for every red cent they can before the fad fades.
"K Playing Scrabble" (above), "J & C At The Ballpark" (below) (May 2011, Polaroid Spectra, TIP  PZ 600 film)
You can see the marked temperature effect between the two shots above. Both were from the same pack of PZ 600 film. The top shot was taken in an air conditioned hotel room, the bottom shot was taken outdoors on a hot and humid day.
The first few iterations of the TIP films showed decent improvement - the "Silver Shade" product got closer to providing a neutral black and white, and the "Color Shade" product, while remaining washed out and very soft, was actually getting to the point where it was differentiating colors and not just a wash of muddy blue tones. You were still having to shield the prints immediately upon leaving the camera, but the UV protection was at least getting better.
"Ye Olde Ball Game" (May 2011, Polaroid Spectra, TIP PZ 600 film)
Another shot from the ballpark. In this case, the strong sepia/yellow cast actually works, making the picture seem old and giving it a nostalgic feel.

But then things seemed to stall. The email updates from TIP became less and less about advances to the film, and more and more about marketing gimmicks - "limited editions," different color image frames, accessories and refurbished Polaroid cameras priced for hipsters living in trust fund lofts rather than tip jar apartments. And as actual improvements to the product appeared to get fewer and farther between, the cost of the product got higher and higher - including the need to sometimes buy additional products to make up for deficiencies in the film itself. Right now, TIP film will run you approximately $3.00 per shot, not including shipping. Pretty steep rate for an unstable, unpredictable and (let's face it) still highly flawed product.

"Summer Garden" (June 2011, Polaroid 600, TIP PX 600 UV+ Black Frame film)
Case in point as to the gimmicks - the shot above is a special edition of the PX 600 UV+ film. Still has the same temperature sensitivity problems, still too sensitive to light during development, still a problem with uneven distribution of developer chemicals (see the cutout in the center top of the frame), but hey the enclosure is black, isn't that cool? (Of course, if you just scan the image without the "way cool" black frame - as above - you are just left with a finicky, over-priced film product.)

I don't know why the research seems to have stalled. Perhaps the technical hurdles are just too steep to overcome at the scale that TIP is able to fund. Perhaps the partial re-introduction of integral Polaroid/Fuji films has killed off some of the demand - and therefore the funding base - for TIP films. I have not used the Fuji Instax or the Polaroid 300 (which is essentially a rebranded Fuji Mini 25), but from what I've heard the quality is heads and tails above the TIP films at less than a third the cost per shot. True, the newer cameras leave a lot to be desired in the cool-factor category. Frankly, they are just plain ugly, at least in my opinion. But having an attractive box to run your film through only gets you so far if the film itself fails to deliver.

Supposedly, there are even more improved versions of the TIP films coming down the pike later this year. Indeed, the last email that I got from TIP was a bundling sale, that appears to be trying to clear out all of the old (and now for much of it, expired) film stock. However, even at the "super sale" price the per shot cost is still more than $1, which is where to my mind the cost should be in general. The new "improved" versions of the films will almost certainly be more in the $2 to $3+ per shot cost range, and if the most recent updates are any guide, improvements will likely be incremental, at best.

Perhaps I would think differently if I was more of a studio shooter. (There is some very cool work being done with these films, but almost all of it is studio work where the important factors - temperature, lighting, etc. can be controlled to optimize the result.) However, I'm not, and given the ongoing disappointment with the TIP films (not to mention the expense), I have reluctantly decided to give up on integral films altogether. The quality is just not there for the production of traditional photographic images, even in the Fuji/Polaroid integral films, and I simply don't think in the artistic way needed to elevate the types of images you can get with TIP films to get something that is worth clicking the shutter.

I sold off my second SX-70 body some time ago, and will be putting the other one up on the fleaBay this weekend. I still dream of TIP (or perhaps Fuji, Polaroid or ?????) resurrecting the SX-70 with a quality film product to run through it, I don't think the chances are at all likely, and I would rather use my time and money to subsidize other aspects of the (still shrinking) film market that provide me with the quality and usage experience that make them worthwhile now, rather than those that dangle the chance of that on some ill-defined future date while expecting me to pay premium rates for an inferior product.

Sorry TIP . . . it's not me, it's you. Later.

"Wake Me Up When You Get Your S#*t Together" (June 2011, Polaroid 600, TIP PX 600 UV+ film)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

First Snow of 2012 (Con't) - Rosehill Cemetery

January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/500
Black & white conversion in Lightroom 3
A few more shots from the only decent snowfall we have had yet this season. These are from the Rosehill Cemetery here in Chicago. This is great, huge older cemetery a little north of where I live. You will often see other photographers there, but the morning of these shots it was just me and the groundskeepers, who were busy plowing the numerous roads that wind through the cemetery grounds.

January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/320
Black & white conversion in Lightroom 3
January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/500
Black & white conversion in Lightroom 3
January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/250
Black & white conversion in Lightroom 3

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

First (And Last?) Real Snow of 2012

January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/20

Middle of last month we had the first snow of the New Year, and what will perhaps turn out to be the only real snow of the 2012 Winter. Chicago has been having extremely mild weather this year. The usual sub-20s temperatures and snows that require you to dig your car out the next day have yet to materialize. I don't mind the milder temperatures and certainly don't mind not having to excavate a couple feet of snow just to have a parking space, but at least snow gives the otherwise dead and gray landscape some visual interest. Without the occasional snowfall, the Midwest landscape can get pretty bleak between December and March.

January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/20

January 2012, Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7, 400 ISO, f/8.0 @ 1/15

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Food Motivated

This is Rudder waiting for a treat at the September 2011 8K/5K run/walk event for the local no-kill pet shelter, PAWS. They put on the event every year, and this is the second year that Rudder, K and I have participated. Always fun to see all the other dogs and all the money raised goes towards PAWS and other pet-related charities. 

Still a little behind on dealing with the last of the 2011 film images, but am (slowly) catching up. 
Cross-processed Kodak EB-2 (expired), Canon A-1, 50mm f/1.8
Rudder Waiting For Treats @ PAWS "Run For Their Lives", September 2011, Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fuji 400H Film With The Holga

I would like to like Fuji Pro 400H more than I do, as it would be nice to have an alternative to Kodak Portra 400. Jury is still out, generally, but it doesn't work that well with my Holga. The Fuji film appears to be rated at least a stop faster than it really is - meaning that it really needs to be overexposed to get decent colors and negative thickness. Since the Holga only has two aperture settings (at best) and one shutter speed, you either need to get just the right lighting conditions, or you need a fairly forgiving film. Black & white films tend to have a lot more exposure latitude, so you can get decent exposures under much more varied lighting conditions than with color negative film. Kodak Portra 400 also has a lot of exposure latitude, although not as much as the better black & whites. I've had very good luck with the Holga using Portra. However, given Kodak's recent troubles, and its apparent attitude toward us "backward" film shooters, having an alternative would be both helpful and prudent. Unfortunately, it looks like the Fuji isn't going to be it.
"Eventide" (Roscoe Village, Chicago, October 2011)
Holga 120n, Fuji Pro 400H
I like this shot, even though it is strongly underexposed, as I think the underexposure helps create a mysterious and evocative mood.
"A Little Light Is So Religious" (Roscoe Village, Chicago, October 2011)
Holga 120n, Fuji Pro 400H
This shot shows a much better exposure, resulting from the more direct light on the steeple and the bright sky.

Friday, February 3, 2012