Thoughts

Developing B&W Film

As part of my return to a film workflow, I decided to work through my backlog of film. These are 35mm and 120 rolls of both B&W as well as color, which I’ve shot over the past year. (On expired film, no less!) I don’t have the chemicals yet for C-41 processing, but I did get what I needed for B&W. Last night, I developed one roll of 120, and two 35mm rolls. These were shot on a Holga, a Lomo LC-A, and a Leica M6.

Old habits die hard, and after a few minutes, I was back in my groove, able to process without thinking too much. After drying, I realized how important a good light box is, as I tried to use a flashlight and some paper to see my new negatives. What really stood out for me, were the images from the M6. Not only did it appear to have more keepers, but even photos I struggled to capture, seem to have come out ok. Once I digitize these, I’ll get a better look at the performance of each of these cameras.

Some tips for those wishing to develop their own B&W film:

  1. Use a Patterson tank, and double check the required volume of liquids (written on the bottom). This really helps save on chemicals!
  2. Use glass jars to store your chemicals. Photographer’s Formulary is a nice brand, and I like their amber colored containers. They also come with caps!
  3. Add in glass marbles to fill up the empty head space in those jars. This will help your chemicals store longer. Also store them in dark, cool area.
  4. Label all those jars! I have added information for developer type, mix date, and how many rolls processed (counting 120 as 2), for the stop and fixer. (I reuse these)
  5. You don’t have to wait 24 hours for freshly mixed developer, just make sure it is dissolved properly.
  6. Make notes for chemical types. Use it like a cheat sheet during processing.
  7. LabTimer for the iPhone is great, and simple to use.
  8. Pipe in some music to help pass the time.

I still have a few more rolls to process, and I just got some Portra 120 to experiment on. I have plans to visit the local badlands in Central California, in a few weeks, to try out creating some medium format landscapes. Film is back, and it’s better than ever!

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Photography: The Craft

I made a recent observation the other day, almost an epiphany. It changed the way I saw photography as a craft, and not just a medium. For the past several years, I’ve found myself in a creative rut. I tried shooting new subjects, new cameras, even tried different art forms like drawing and painting. Nothing pulled me out of this rut. I did shoot some film during this period, but only developed the rolls, and only turned some of the image into digital files for editing. I then realized what I was missing, the actual craft involved in photography.

I am “classically” trained in photography, with a BFA in photography. I went to college when film was still the defacto standard, and digital was not something to be taken seriously. Oddly, at the time, I suggested that as artists, we should embrace the digital format. I was the only one to hand in projects completely done in a digital workflow. But I also spent hundreds of hours in a darkroom, developing film, and using enlargers to create prints. It was this process, that I equated to the physical craft of photography. And I realize today, it is what is missing in my art.

I don’t believe it is nostalgia, as I continue to return to film every year or so. The look and feeling of film is unmatched. The physicality of holding a fibre print, with deep blacks that are not based on inkjet technology, is wonderful. The entire flow with a 35mm or medium format camera is slowed down and seems more deliberate. The process of loading film, shooting manually, envisioning the image in your head before pressing the shutter, even the decision to push or pull the film, choice of emulsion or developer, all add variables to an image you would not see, till after the final wash. It was this physical, hands-on approach to photography, that made me feel as if I was creating art.

With digital, it all seems too simple. Not to say there is no room for digital photography in fine art, there absolutely is. For better or worse, digital makes photography accessible to everybody. Anybody can press a button and have a nice digital image. The problem for me, artistically speaking, is that it requires less hands-on time. Shooting, and composing is the same between the two, but there is no developing, or in the case of actual darkroom prints, the manipulation of light. Modern photographers push pixels, and have instantaneous results. To me, to be a photographer, you have to play with light.  Know how to manipulate it, anticipate it, and read it. Plus, a film-based workflow leaves you with a physical negative, something that is good for at least 100 years. There is something very satisfying about that; a permanence in a physical object, which can be seen generations from now. Unfortunately, digital has not reached a point where it is truly archival.

It is in these little negatives that I think the magic of art is created. The emulsion captures a specific time and place, the light changing the physical form and shape of the emulsion, to give us an image. A negative truly is an actual record of an event, touched by the light itself. Whereas digital is a machine’s interpretation of light, removing us further from the creation process.

For myself, I need to feel physically connected to my work, to make both cognitive and subconscious decisions throughout the creation process, before I can say a piece is truly unique and personal. Digital will continue to dominate what I do, but film will be there, to allow me to practice the craft I learned, and the true art medium I work in.

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On Being A Nikon Fan

Some of you may be wondering, “Why does he focus so much on Nikon products?” The biggest reason is, I’ve really only ever shot Nikon. My Father had a Nikon that he gave me back in high school, and because of the inherited lens system, the choice was pretty much made for me. When it came time to purchase my first DSLR, the D100, I wanted the backwards lens compatibility. I have played around with some Canon products, but they never felt right in my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I think Canon cameras can make wonderful images as well, with great clarity and sharpness. (For those who might be thinking about what camera system to choose, please take a look at my other post.)

For myself, I like the build quality Nikon provides. I love the weather sealing and rugged build of their prosumer cameras. The ergonomics are the best in the industry, with the power switch and shutter button in the same position. Add on a vertical grip (or get a pro level SLR) and everything is so nicely balanced with a large lens. I love that Nikon has a fantastic auto-focus system, and their Speedlight system (CLS) is fantastic. I find their menu system intuitive, as well as how you navigate said system. The button placement on their DSLR’s is great, and once you learn to control one Nikon, you can control them all.

In terms of image quality, Nikon glass is legendary, and this has not changed in recent times. I have noticed that Nikon will often make certain sacrifices in spec to maintain their image quality, and I really appreciate that. The low light performance of their cameras is excellent, as is the overall frames per second. The lens selection is gigantic, and covers anything from intro-level “kit” lenses to pro level glass, in pretty much any type of combination you could imagine.

And while I could go on and on about all the great reasons why I love Nikon, at the end of the day, it is all about the image. If you’re shooting a Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, it does not matter. What matters is the image that comes out in the end. Cameras should be looked upon as tools, nothing more. For myself, Nikon fits my shooting style very well, and that is the tool I choose to use.

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