Getting it all Wrong to Get it Right

During the process of relearning the multitude of things about film and film cameras I’ve forgotten over the past decade (since I went digital), I have stumbled across photographs in the computer that have languished forgotten in obscure folders for years. Pictures like this one, which is terribly underexposed and therefore by today’s rules of engagement, useless. There was no better one taken at the time so the picture was ignored after downloading, lucky in fact not to have be deleted. Found only by accident because it was in a folder with older negative scans

With film I find myself constantly revisiting, reprinting, and reviewing the negatives  and when also is reviewing the scans one needs to look closer, it’s more labour intensive, requires more concentration, which is how this one was discovered.

In this instance the gross underexposure has worked (If the truth be known, the image is probably better for the mistake than if it had been correctly exposed) giving it a very W. Eugene Smith kind of aesthetic and I have always admired Smith’s work.

The camera is my old 5D and the lens is a cheap Sigma 28-300mm, which makes the picture a good example of money not being the key to a good image. To add to the lack of professional expertise, it was shot directly into the sun and through the window of our hotel in Gdansk.

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meeting expectations

Berlin’s Night of Music takes place on the longest day of the year, and that was yesterday; consequently, we are now on the slow slide into winter. That’s not really a bad thing as I like the winter months. It’s also the signal to begin the marathon of festivals and events that make the summer months interesting.

Like we have done for the previous two years, I – along with a group of intrepid artists from the Brücke Kunst – took up our positions on the crossover bridge at Berlin’s oldest harbor near Jannowitz Brücke. We do this to engage with people, both young and old in the process of painting, modeling, etching rubbing, playing an unplayable instrument and posing for an almost instant photographic portrait, all for a bit of loose change.

It may sound odd but we are getting repeat business, especially for the portraits. One family has gone from one child to three over the period and they have sat for a portrait with each new addition, becoming old friends, although I was assured that there would be no extra child in next year’s picture.

The two young ladies in today’s image are sisters from Melbourne, Australia who are travelling Europe and only in Berlin for a couple of days.

And if you were to ask ‘Why do I find this picture interesting? Because it looks like any standard tourist snap shot” then I would reply, “Where are the flash marks, why aren’t the highlights (faces) blown out by the flash, and isn’t the light nicely balanced to bring out the blue in the night sky?” It’s a movie version of what a snapshot should look like.

It looks like a travel snapshot because it’s designed to look like one.

In post some grain was added, a vignette filter to darken the top and warmed the image up a little, but other than that it’s straight out of the camera.

The soft even lighting on the young women is not the product of skillful lighting on my part, but modern technology in the form of a ring flash that cost just over €100. that I was using as a key light in portraits for the first time yesterday.

I think it is important to consider what a photograph will be used for, which in this case is memories of Berlin, and that’s why it is the way it is.

50mm, f5.6, 1/180sec, ISO320, Yongnuo Ring Flash at ½ power

Quiet Moments

At heart I am a bit of a minimalist, and I do love a good photorealistic painting, which is why the late Jeffrey Smart has been one of my favorite painters ever since I first saw his work in Sydney back in 2003.

So it would come as no surprise that I look for similar-style scenes to photograph. It’s the precise positioning of every element in a Jeffrey Smart painting that I find most engaging. Unfortunately, the very mechanical nature of the photographic medium under normal circumstances prohibits such fine placing of the elements at least for someone of my Photoshop skill level.

Photography does have the decisive moment, but that’s more about capturing a fleeting moment, a slice of time as it flashes by. What appeals to me in this picture is its contemplative restfulness. We can see that this isn’t a fleeting instance of action but a period of quiet stillness, made visually enjoyable by what we know as the appeal of vertical lines, disappearing perspectives and frames within frames. But without what Kandinsky explained as the tension within the frame, a tension that’s supplied by the almost perfect positioning of the people, it would be a dull lifeless image.

If it was a painting it would be ­­possible to correct the problems of left leaning, but in a photograph, despite the wonders of PS, when you correct that problem, other dimensions change, so more work is required.

The end result would be different, more constrained image, and not a picture I like.

 

FujifilmX20, f5.6, 1/250sec, ISO200

An Advantage of Age

In a world where the old is thrown away for the next new thing, I think we may be missing out on some of the sensational things that the old things can do best.

This bucolic rural image of country Germany was shot with a 10-year old 5d, no, not a 5D mk11 or mk111, the ignored first model. A camera that has so many stains on the sensor from years in the tropics that it’s unadvisable to shoot with an f-stop of more than f5.6.

Coupled to old faithful is a cheap Sigma 28-300mm zoom I use when on holidays, it is also an old lens (about 15years old, but glass, not plastic). The picture may not be as tack sharp like it would be if shot with my 6D and a pro lens but would such equipment really help me get this image like I wanted?

The original picture, which has had a minimum of post processing, was easily made to look like it was shot in the early 20th century. The picture is about memories, looking back.

What I am trying to say is, don’t get rid of the old equipment, it may just be what you need to get what you want.

 

5D, 28-300mm, f5.6, 1/600sec

Why Bother

I was asked the other day why I bother with experiments such as the posts on the 25th and 26th of September. For those who didn’t read the post, I’m trying to emulate old film style grain in camera with a modern digital camera.

But why?

Because for me it has always been about the finished product, not the medium and for my current project(s), that special softer grainy look usually only found in higher speed film is both what I like and especially what I want/need to make the thing work.

If you take the time to compare today’s image with that of the 25th it becomes obvious that getting that “look is not as easy as it would first appear.

Today’s image was post-processed to be high contrast grainy without going over the top, keeping it real you might say. But still, because the picture was correctly exposed there is minimal noise/grain, which when you consider that the picture was shot in bad yellow tungsten light at ISO12800, then it is both amazing and a bit dispiriting, because if, like me, you are after that soft edge and very grainy look that’s the predominant feature of high speed film, then normal exposure rules won’t work.

 

24-70mm, f7.1, 1/125sec, ISO12800

Comparisons

I thought it a good idea to put up the original image from the latest of my relentless investigations into how the photographic process can be used, abused and manipulated as I struggle to get the camera and post-processing deliver the image I want.

Being digital the first thing I do after I taken a shot is look to see if the image is correctly exposed, but at the time the camera showed just a dark blodge with a highlight, it doesn’t look much better now, but this is the images that became the pervious post on the 25th , after minimal post processing.

As I’ve said before, technology, I just love it.

35mm f2.5, 1/20sec, ISO400

Experimental Accidents

Doing experiments like the one currently under discussion is more often than not boring for those with a less technical interest in photography than myself, but such experiments in fact make life as a photographer so much easier.

This picture was shot on Friday night under terrible conditions. The lighting in the room is tungsten, flat, and I deliberately underexposed by three and a half stops, in this and other photographs I shot during the evening. The results from this exercise were mixed, ranging from the just plain awful to this image, which, while I like it a lot, is the result of an accident rather than careful planned execution.

The grain/noise in this image is undetectably the same as film I’ve shot in this location over the years and it was achieved primarily in camera. A minimal amount of post-processing was done with Silver Effex Pro, free B&W software from Google.

Why is this important? Because I am once again resurrecting the book project that is/was Unreliable Truths, but this time I will have the help of a friend who will edit it and try and knock it into better shape, which means all new pictures will need to look the same as those shot ten years ago. Yes, I could manage it in Photoshop if I had the patience to endlessly experiment to get the right look, but it’s simply easier to get it right in the camera….

 

35mm, f2.5, 1/20sec, ISO400 (3.65stops underexposed)