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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1st World Moans

I’m trying hard not to be paranoid here, but it seems anytime I write about the wall of angry cranes flooding the horizon another one appears.

This is semi suburban Berlin, not some central office utopia, but every day brings more and they are all in a rush to get the buildings built with floodlights blinding the local residents deep into the night.

Really, are there so many desperate rich people out there who want to buy a luxury a apartment so near to us, their much poorer cousins?

As a consolation I do occasionally get this War of the Worlds lighting effect.

A small mercy I suppose.

70-200MM, f 4.5, 1/8th sec, ISO12,800

On Film, Ism’s and Rituals

Once a site of resistance, the Peace Wall in Prague is now a place where insignificant individuals desecrate symbols of resistance for reasons of narcissism. Let’s face it, the mass of tourists who feel a need to write on walls such as the John Lennon Peace Wall are those who come late to history via a homogenized journey but want others to think they would have risked life and limb if only they had been born earlier, or in a less salubrious location, or under an oppressive regime, or didn’t have to go to uni, or….

The folk law version I heard from the locals back in the mid 1990s was that during the communist era someone did the original graffiti/paintings and the authorities painted over them, and then more were done, the authorities would removed them and back and forth it went. Finally someone who was caught repainting the J.L. mural was badly beaten, which resulted in the violent protests of record.

Ironically, Wikipedia gives a different, more homogenized and palatable version, but by the 1990s tourists had begun to do what organized oppression could not, they were taking the wall away piece by piece, paint chip by paint chip as souvenirs to put away and forget or were tagging what was left with rather stupid minutia.

The wall looks much different today, I guess because it’s now a site of entertainment, an ode to the corrosive power of any dominant ism no matter the label

The reason for these pictures is that I have begun to regress and have once again fallen in love with film. Not for the nostalgic reasons so popular today or because film is better, but for the ritual of loading film, taking light meter readings and being restricted to the amount of shots (12 in the case of this camera) to a roll of film. These actions slow everything down, makes me more selective and contemplative about composition and why I want to shoot the image. It also costs 30 to 50 cents a shot and a lot of work goes into making the final picture so each image is important. The process is therapeutic you might say, in its own odd way.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lennon_Wall

Bronica SQA, 80mm, Ilford HP5, developed in Rodinol. 1994

Working the Room

Photographing Literature festivals rarely offers the opportunity of a great picture for the obvious reason that in most instances the main performers are doing nothing more than reading poems or short excerpts from books, which are interesting intellectually, but not visually. The light is generally bad or terrible for photography and the photographer should be unobtrusive and as quiet as possible, which means no flash, not moving around to get a better angle and shooting as few frames as possible.

Preplanning where you will stand is of paramount importance.

This poet, Jayrome Robinet, gave a wonderful performance, made all the better for me by providing the opportunity for a wonderful picture.

85mm, f4, 1/80sec, ISO10,000.

A Post Revisited

I received a comment and a request to enlarge on a post done on May 26th of this year. I put the post up just after I bought a battery grip for my camera in effort to induce myself to break the long established habit of shooting in the landscape position and shoot more in the portrait position.

In this post I explained I spent the day shooting with the camera in a vertical position to become overly  familiar with the compositional elements of this format.

Why did I think this necessary? Because one of the main problems I’ve always had with shooting in this style was negative space either at the top or bottom of the frame, as is evident in the first picture of the car, which was also the first image shot on the day. The unwieldiness due to the large expanse of black at the top of the picture easily demonstrates my lack of familiarity with the format when shooting street work.

The second image (according to the metadata), was shot about an hour later, and still evident is my need to fill the bottom of the frame which in this case left the top a little empty .

The frame is getting fuller and more controled by the third image, which was about two hours later. After aprox three hours and a couple of hundred frames the format has been tamed, as is evidenced in the last photo, which is obeying rules of two thirds but ignoring the time-honored tradition of not placing the center of interest in the center of the frame.

Since the May post the battery grip has remained connected to my working camera and I now work comfortably in either landscape or portrait position. In fact, I’ve begun to notice many of my contemporaries still shoot only in the landscape position, whereas now I’m constantly switching as I seek to optimize the compositional elements of the image within the frame.

The first two images were shot using 50 mm and the bottom two images using a 70-200mm.

I’ve also found that a when shooting in the portrait position a lens’ length of 50mm or more is often an easier option than a wide-angle lens.

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

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)