Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rusty Drum

From a 4X5 negative, Delta 100, HC110, scanned on my 4870 at 2400 dpi. A work in progress.

Making Prints For The Book

I thought I might share some of my experiences in making test prints for the upcoming book 'Why Photographs Work'.

It's a tremendous responsibility doing my best to get these images exactly right. Some of these well known photographers don't do digital and I have had to work from raw scans or jpegs or scanning prints myself. Some of the black and white images are strongly toned and that image colour is going to have to come across.

Sometimes it takes literally hundreds of changes to get a file just right. My reference varies from prints to books to web images.

I have just printed Angel Descending by John Wimberley - wonderful image - and I noted that in the file he sent me there was nothing approaching white - so I lightened the image by moving the white point. The change was subtle, but now the image looks bright and perky, not 'moving' like the original - not all images should contain pure white, even when white things are represented in the image. The original file is the way to go.

Briggite Carnochan sent me the file for 'Pillow of Sickness' and I was having a terrible time. I reprofiled my monitor and printer and still couldn't get the image right. On the phone this morning I learned that she prints on an art paper, not inkjet paper, and the resulting image is muted and soft and lovely, but it takes a 'brisk' file to make that final image. Huge relief - thought I'd been doing something wrong. She's going to fed ex me a proof print - from which I will edit her digital file so that it will come out right in the book.

A Roman Loranc image took dozens of prints, despite having a profiled monitor and printer, before both he and I were satisfied with the result.

Brian Kossof sent a file in which he had  diffused the highlights - yet it didn't have the subtlety or the degree of diffusion of his image as it appeared in Lenswork. He'd been working with film. I had to come up with a variety of diffusion techniques in Photoshop in dozens of layers to match Brian's intent and make both of us happy with the result.

I wrote the above neither to impress you with my skill nor my hard work, but simply to give you an insight into the making of fine prints and of book making. Welcome to my world.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Seeing Doesn't Rest

I was sitting, reading and drinking tea when I noticed both the position and lighting on my wife's feet. I asked her not to move, retrieved my dSLR, located the battery (in the charger) put in a fresh memory card, erased it, and shot a few pictures before thinking to check ISO - 3000, so adjusted that and took a few more, closer or further, more or less tightly cropped.

I lightened the red channel, used fill light to open shadows, reduced contrast and applied blur selectively to a copy of the image, then toned it.

The point of course is that I wasn't thinking about making images. This wasn't a deliberate effort on my part to be observant. Mind you, I suspect that it comes from practicing deliberate seeing.

I have no idea yet whether this is a good image - I can only say that at the moment it pleases me. I like the almost marble sculpture effect.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beginnings Of A New Project

I didn't think that photographing concrete could be a worthwhile project, especially new, unweathered stuff, but perhaps it's worth exploring further.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Not Being Famous

The vast majority of us are not going to be famous - probably for anything, and certainly not for our photography. Arguably, since you are reading this, I at least have some notoriety and have had images published and published two books and a third on the way, so am perhaps not the right person to write about fame, or more accurately the lack of it. That said, truth is, through the by far biggest part of my photographic years I was entirely unknown, so do speak from experience, and not that long ago either.

Truth is, most people who achieve a goal very rapidly take it for granted and set a new, even tougher goal to achieve, so basking in one's fame, at whatever level, is fleeting at best.

Add to this the problem that john q public isn't able to appreciate all that our work offers. I know I certainly didn't when younger have the eye to appreciate much of the work I now admire, partly through education, largely through experience. For many of us, it is sharing our work with other photographers (and with non photographers who can appreciate all that our work means) that gives us the biggest kick.

For a lot of us, we never shared our work before the days of the internet - we didn't belong to a club, we didn't submit to magazines (or didn't get accepted), and our best work sat for years hidden away in old printing paper boxes. Satisfaction came from solving problems and getting things right, and also simply enjoying a beautiful print of our own, and feeling that it held up against the work of others we had seen, in books and at exhibitions.

Given the choice of making a photograph that is meaningful for myself or someone else, I'd pick me, every time. I have images which have demonstrably failed to impress in the public domain and despite not only lack of enthusiasm but downright and legitimate criticism; continue to 'work' for me.

This 'working for me' can happen at any level of skill and if someone has no knowledge of how wonderful a photograph can be, they may in fact be happy with what many would consider quite mediocre images. But does that actually matter? As long as they aren't trying to foist their poor images on the rest of us and feel satisfied in isolation, who are we to criticize. If later, they find out what really good images look like, and change their minds about their 'early' work, well, moving on and learning and getting better is all worthwhile. If a few of their early images continue to be important to them, that's lovely.

If a photographer thinks one of their images is terrific and the rest of us could or would disagree it doesn't matter. Most golfers tell me that they compete against themselves far more than the compete against the other players - it's about improving their game. I think there are a lot of reasons why photography should NOT be a competitive sport.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Progress

Why Photographs Work is coming along nicely, though delivery before Christmas seems a bit iffy. The book is at the layout editor as I chase up the last few photographer portraits and get photographer approval of all the edits of the text.

There are 52 photographers (seems I can't count), but better more than less. I can't comment on whether people will enjoy what I have to say about the images (though as I have done some previous image assessments on the blog, you can look back for some examples), but I think that between looking at the pictures and reading about the photographer making the images, it will be a fantastic book.

I can't thank the photographers enough for all their efforts on my behalf, for nothing - incredibly generous of both images and time, as text has gone back and forth and through multiple edits and I've asked for more from the photographers.

More On Large Format

I was photographing the other evening, and suddenly realized that all my lenses were mounted so the name of the shutter would read right side up when the lens is mounted (technika), but that it would be infinitely easier if the f stop and shutter speeds were on the side (right preferably) so I could see them when the camera is mounted at eye level.

Spent the evening filing notches in lens boards and remounting the lenses sideways - not as aesthetically correct perhaps, but a damn site handier.

I've been using my Canon S90 for viewing and exposure metering, but it doesn't help me assess contrast so I have purchased a used spot meter.

There is an interesting series of videos on tray processing of large format film on youtube that suggests that scratch free negatives can be had with just a bit of care. Oddly, part of that is placing the negatives in a tray (in waterbath) that isn't too big so the negs. don't go all over the place. Also clip one corner of one neg. so you always know when you are back at the beginning of the pile. Hmm. would be nice to process more than two negs at a time (BTZS tubes). I'll think about it - and practice a lot, before risking good negatives.

I've been thinking that the 5X7 would make a suitably impressive camera for shooting environmental portraits and I might just get up the nerve to give this a try. Digital would be a hell of a lot easier, but I think the result would be different - will report on progress.

I now have a 5X7 Technika V (as well as the Shen Hao). Even more weight (12 lb.) but built like a tank, and with wide angle focusing knob on the outside (like the Technika 2000 and 3000, for a whole lot less. The Shen Hao is far better looking, but the Technika does have its advantages - absolutely rigid, perfectly aligned, can handle wide lenses like the 72XL or even a 55 for 4X5, and has bellows long enough to use my 450 mm. lens without an extension board. The back has a bail for opening it, and of course a rotating back. The extension rail has only a single button to press down on and it's on the left side, making extending it a lot simpler. But 12 lb. - don't think I'll be getting far from the camera with this monster.

Have been doing some scanning of the 4X5's and 5X7's. So far no 5X7 that wows me.

The BTZS darkcloth is definitely the best, if a bit hot and humid in there - have to be careful not to breathe on the ground glass or the damn thing fogs up - or even worse, the moisture gets between the ground glass and the fresnel. May have to get some snorkel gear - and I thought I looked silly already.

Had forgotten just how frustrating cable releases are - designed to fall off, or break off, yet fiddly enough you hate having to screw one on for every change in lens - so I leave them on, and they break, and they fall. Am about to find out if they rust, having dropped one in the stream I was standing in.

It was only after photographing that I even gave thought to the image being upside down in the ground glass - didn't even notice as I was shooting - mind you I'd shot with a view camera for a number of years - just not in the last few.

I had kept purchasing View Camera magazine, which seemed pointless at the time, yet hard to let go - guess it was prescient.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

First Film

This is the first 4X5 film of the new era, a concrete box for the new storm sewer installation next to the tennis courts (I'd been playing and noted the light, so returned the next day at the right time).

Shot with a Technika IV, Delta 100 film, dry scanned on my 4870, lens was the 210, f 11, focus on the front surface of the box.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Voja Mitrovic, Printer To The Greats

Check out the two part essays on Voja, who has printed for the likes of Cartier Bresson - for his best prints anyway, and read the followup blogs on The online Photographer.

With Power Comes Responsibility

Photoshop is a very powerful tool. You can do almost anything to an image. BUT SHOULD YOU? Knowing when enough is enough is a vital skill, whether in framing the subject or adjusting the tones in an image. Knowing the difference between magnificent and cartoonish, subtle and boring takes skill, experience and a good eye.

Some claim the good eye is inherent, I think it is developed, through looking at fine images.

Some aspects of the fine image can be garnered from magazine and book quality reproductions while others require seeing original prints, and without glass between you if possible. Workshop teachers typically bring bare prints to show and this is a fantastic opportunity. If you don't spend 4X as much time going over the instructors prints as anyone else in the workshop, you aren't getting the most out of the workshop. Ask to view the prints at lunch time - so what if you starve. Find out if you can have a private look through at the end of the day. Far more than skill or talent, instructors admire enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

Life Changing Moments

Charles sent me the following:

Message: Ok, so dont keep us in suspense, what is the name of the workshop you said you went to that so radically changed your photogaphy?
As with many questions, there isn't a simple answer, but here's a list of the things that made a difference for me. You won't necessarily be able to do the same thing, but perhaps can find something similar.

1) In the 1970's I took a weekend photographic appreciation course at the Edmonton Art Gallery, given by Hubert Hohn. I thought it a complete waste of time and besides it was boring, but something took and within six months how I looked at photographs was changed fundamentally. I could appreciate a greater range of images and get more out of each image. The problem had been me, not the course.

2) Reading Fred Picker's "The Zone VI Workshop", a very modest book did more to improve the quality of my printing than dozens of previous books including all of Ansel Adams. Now, with digital and Photoshop, it doesn't have the impact it did, but perhaps there are modern books with equivalent impact.

3) Attending a Craig Richards and Keith Logan workshop in Canmore, Alberta - it was helpful and fun and we had some great photographing. It was the first time that I thought my work good enough to show, and was really the starting point for my writing and showing and selling. Some photographers have an inflated opinion of their work and none of us is a very good judge of our skills without getting some outside feedback. Over several workshops I came to realize that I was at least going in the right direction and might have something to offer.

In the 80's Bruce Barnbaum compared some of my prints to those of Jay Dusard - I was floating, then proceeded to point out a series of totally crap images (he was right). By the time I took a second workshop with Bruce and Tillman Crane in Nova Scotia a few years ago, I had a better sense of good images and the ratio of good images to bad was much healthier.

Feedback is essential and it can be hard to get objective feedback. Few workshop leaders are going to tell you your work is crap, but after a few workshops, you learn to read between the lines, and in looking at the work of all the other participants, develop a sense of where you are at. It's rather like reading modern report cards in which teachers are not allowed to say anything bad about a kid, but if you know the language, you can interpret. Making progress means you were lousy before and still have a long way to go. If the instructor starts talking about the quality of your mattes instead of your prints, you are really in trouble (or he is).

4) Getting published - it's a huge affirmation of one's work. Remember though that not all magazines or editors will like your kind of photography, or they may have published something similar recently so aren't likely to want more of same.I don't think contests are a good way to seek affirmation - unless you win of course.

5) Selling a print for real money. It's one thing to admire an image, another entirely to want it so badly you are willing to fork over cold hard cash. Selling to Aunt Mildred does not count however.

6) Compliments depend on who's giving them - kudos from people you respect, who have an artistic eye, or education or experience means so much more. The nature of the complement is important too. Good things said by someone who actually gets what you were trying to do, instead of simply saying they are lovely can be a big step.

In terms of how this information might help you. I can wholeheartedly recommend workshops by Bruce Barnbaum, (and Craig Richards if he is running any), or Tillman Crane or Michael Reichmann. Check around the net for other suggestions for workshops. I hear that Craig Tanner does fabulous workshops. He seems to have particular skill at improving your seeing and pushing your comfort zones in your photography.Your important milestones will be different from mine and trying to reproduce them may be pointless, but you will have them, especially if you make a point to get out there, ask questions, attend workshops, get help, beg favours. Serious photographers hate being asked to pat someone on the head, they generally love to talk about good photographs and most love looking at photographs if the person making them has put heart and soul into making them. Looking at image someone has made to please me is at best boring.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's Just A Hammer

With me playing with film and large format again, it got me thinking about the emotional worth we invest in our tools. This can cut both ways - believing that without a certain set of tools, we are unable to make great photographs, or blaming our tools for the quality of work we do. Am I retrying large format film to achieve a quality not possible with digital? I don't think so, other than possibly being able to make bigger prints. Am I more efficient? Hardly! Is a ground glass really all that much better than a 3 inch LCD? You must be joking? Could it be that I simply like messing with view cameras, that the process is as important as the result? Absolutely?

But here's the rub. Does the equipment have an impact on our creativity? Might well be. If I spend 4 hours taking a dozen pictures, which I could have done in 20 minutes with a digital camera are the individual images made better? Probably not. But what about all that extra time absorbing the scene - noticing the light, checking the composition especially carefully before wasting film? Don't know.

Who has not at some time seen an amazing photograph in a newspaper. Given the tonalities of newsprint (ain't got none), and resolution of the 5 pixels per inch line screen (just exaggerating here), just about any damn camera could have taken the image and it would still be recognizable as a great photograph.

Is someone who likes messing with  cameras just a hobbyist by definition? Does caring about your tools prevent you from being or being considered as a serious photographer?

We do need to be comfortable with our tools - it's hard to be creative when you are cursing your camera. The right tool doesn't have to be the best tool, or the fanciest, or the most expensive. It doesn't need to be the fastest (and might even benefit from being slower). Wonderful images have been made with rickety old cameras mounting horrible lenses and exposing low quality film (or cheap point and shoot digitals. It helps if the person using said camera isn't letting dreams of better tools get in the way of making the best use of the tool that's in front of them.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Film At Four

AM that is, the time when I finished processing the first 8 sheets of 5X7 film from a hike on Friday. The backpack was about 35 lb. and at age 60 felt more like 50 lb. but I managed, using the waist belt to carry most of the weight it went fine, even taking it on and off repeatedly as I moved through the canyon. Finding a dry rock to lay the backpack and it's turned back flap was a little challenging but it had been raining all morning and conditions in the canyon were perfect.

The Shan Hao worked well, except for the 90 mm. lens which required the front and back standards to touch and which meant no movement in either. Given the depth of field with the 90 on 5X7, not a huge issue but something to consider. If I want to shoot architecture on 5X7, I'll get a 120 Nikkor SW - huge coverage.

There were a few times when I wished I had the simplicity of shooting digital, with a nice bright lcd to show me the image - but decent gr. glass should help - I have ordered a Maxwell screen and will report on it when it comes in a month or so.

I did wish for colour for one image in particular, but actually found it relieving that I didn't have any choice - I had to find subjects that would work in black and white and much to my surprise it was a good thing. I'm not sure that the extra size of 5X7 is worth the weight and bulk - but won't really know till I get some decent prints made.

I did like not having to stitch, not even having the option to do a focus blend, and having to decide which part of the image to let go out of focus, if any, was not a problem.

I made a mount board holder for the 5X7 negs. for scanning - only to have my scanner crap out on me - so no images to show you yet.

I went out last night after tennis to shoot some sewer construction materials lying nearby, this time with my ancient Technika IV. The view camera was ideal for the subject. I could align the focus where I wanted and blur the other areas.

Bottom line is I'm having fun. I fully expect that I won't be as productive (after all, I can't shoot colour), but it will be interesting to see if the quality of the images hold up, and if I'm able to get one good image per shoot, which is all anyone really needs.

Hopefully I'll get the scanning up and running soon and have some images to show.

Friday, August 13, 2010

First Shoot With 5X7

Went to Jura Canyon today. Have been there a few times shooting digital but was back with my 5X7. Pack weighed about 35 lb. and was ok with the waist belt carrying the weight instead of the shoulders. Working is slow, but where I'd take five shots of the same scene, with minor variations in position, each shot stitched or focus blended, not sure that in the end it was any slower.

Did find one shot that I wished I had colour film for, but I quite liked being forced to make black and white images and the real test will be in the quality of the prints made from the shoot. Made 12 images, most of them unique. Only once did I shoot the same setup, same lens, but different exposure.

Composing on the ground glass was frankly much harder than using the lcd - but to be fair this was because of a poor quality fresnel. A decent one is on order and we'll see how much difference that makes.

In the canyon, I used my 90 and 135 the most, and a few shots with the 210 and didn't touch the 450 but that's the nature of the place, narrow and confining and needing LOTS of depth of field.

Tried f32 and a couple at f45 and one at f64 - will be interesting to see if that is practical.

After the first couple of shots, I was thinking I liked that I had earned any images that work out. By the end I was fed up with putting the camera back in the backpack after every shot - carrying a wooden camera weighing sig. more than the tripod in a narrow canyon, water everywhere and some pools fairly deep, and having to traverse wet debarked trees to get past the deepest water - no I don't think I'd want the camera on the tripod for moving positions.

Still, it will come down to the percent of keepers. It will need to be dramatically higher than my digital ratio which is about 1 in 100 (I'm fussy). If it is one in 10, then that means I got one photograph I'll be proud of. In a way, it seems a waste to blow the other eleven negs, but one great image in four hours of photographing isn't that unreasonable.

Well, off to process the film in BTZS 8X10 film tubes - incredibly simple, just a bit slow is all. I wonder if there is a way to process two sheets at a time in each tube (since they are made for twice as large film. The film does move around so two loose sheets isn't on. Wonder what would happen if I used masking tape for the 7 minutes processing time, removing it in the fix. It's a thought. Might just try it on a couple of test pictures.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Quick And Dirty Comparison

For the full effect, click on the images and see them larger, but bottom line is the upper image was made with my 5D2, 50 mm. macro at f11, tripod mounted, live view (ie. no mirror bounce (in fact no shutter at the start of the exposure). The second is the result of literally tossing the 5X7 neg. onto my flatbed 4870 scanner, no holder, no glass to flatten it. It was made with my 210 Symmar S, f 32, 1/2 second exposure on TMAX-100.

At a guess, I'd say I'd need to use at least a double row stitch to get enough pixels to equal the resolution, possibly more. Note that one was taken in the morning, the other the night before, but that's a lot more information, I'd hazard a guess at significantly more than 100 megapixels worth.

Whether the ability to make 35X50 prints that can be viewed from 9 inches is worth the trouble of the 5X7 remains to be seen. I'm waiting on a backpack before I start seriously using the camera.

My plan so far is to use the lenses I have, 90 Nikkor, 135 Sinaron SE (which does in fact cover 5X7, barely), 210 Symmar S, 305 G-Claron and am getting a 450 mm. Fujinon-C.  If this actually becomes practical as well as fun, then I'll get a 120 Nikkor SW for architecture (for movements on the 5X7).

I'll continue to report in.