When we start in photography we believe that bigger is better. We want to print our work as massive pictures, something that really draws the attention of the viewer. The bigger the better. I printed some massive pictures, some good some very poor. As I progressed in my photography I discovered the power of small.
This power is hard to grasp at first. Much like negative space, it is something that is plainly obvious in its presence but hard to describe. My discovery of the power of a small print came from an exhibit of Joseph Sudek in Paris. I went to see my favorite photographer's work and was shocked to find that the prints that he made were tiny. I am talking the size of a medium format contact print.
As I sat there taking in the small print I realized something completely unexpected. I had taken a step forward, closer to the image. I was interacting with the image in a completely different way, and it moved me. I sat, looking at the work of this one-armed master, and felt as if he had printed it just for me.
I walked out of the exhibit mad. Mad that every book I have seen of his work made his prints so very large. They had detracted from the power of his work. They had made it somehow more industrial and less artistic. It was still magnificent photography, but the intimacy had been torn from the image.
For those who have not tried making a small print to send a bit message, you are missing out on true power. Last weekend I took this concept into the darkroom with me. I went in and made smaller prints than I have ever made before. The end result was smoother tonality, less grain and sharper overall prints. Placed in a large frame with a large mat the eye naturally pulls the image in, detail jumps out and you have an intimate moment with the viewer.
The power of the small print is very real. As an added bonus it takes less paper, chemical and indeed time to get it right. I do not suggest that all your prints should be small, just the ones that you want to emphasize.
It seems that everyone loves street photography yet it is the one genre that most people fear. I understand this fear all to well. Sure it is easy to snap a picture of someone you know but to walk around a street taking pictures of strangers seems odd...and that is the challenge, we equate running around snapping pictures as being somehow weird and a danger to society.
But that is our own perception. If you see someone taking pictures of street scenes, not hidden, but open, in plain view, do you consider this person a danger? This is the perception one must overcome to shoot the street. When you look at the photography masters do you believe that they just walked up and snapped the picture only to walk away unnoticed? Look through Magnum Contact sheets and you will see the number of images taken, the different angles tried and the compositions picked up and discarded frame after frame.
They took those pictures by creating an understanding with the subject. 'I am here to take pictures, you will be in them, but I do not expect anything from you and I will not harm you in any way.'
So how do you develop those skills? You drop your fear, fill yourself with false confidence and go shoot. Fake it till you make it...or Fake it until you become it...either way you must start by faking it.
In the shot above I am standing across the street, I have zoomed in and you can tell as the image is compressed. This gave me a wonderful vantage of the lady with the break salesman int he back. These shots are a bit easy as you are farther away from your subject. They may not know you are there. Easy to get a natural expression but a bit of a cheat as you are not involved in the scene.
These images are a great way to warm up to street photography. They are good images, but rarely great. But they serve to get us into a rhythm which is so very important in street photography. When you are on a roll, walking around, shooting, moving, shooting, moving, smiling, chatting and shooting, you are confident and this allows you to shoot great street photography.
Here is another tool to use. In this image I am completely separated from the subject, but I have used that separation to form part of the image. The door helps to frame her, the car in the background gives some depth to the image. Her expression is clear, but unguarded. It is a natural image with wonderful lines and motion. Again I am not involved in the scene but I have used the separation to help the image instead of distracting. With these, if you are lucky and frame it right, you can grab some wonderful images. This can also build your confidence as you fake it.
A wonderful picture of the street...sort of. Here I have captured a common scene in Buenos Aires, that of a taxi cab. The driver and passenger are both looking at me but are not afraid. I am part of the scene they have driven into. Plenty of energy and a good street shot but now way to capture a real expression. Building the confidence a bit more.
Here is another image in the similar vain. The carriage rider saw us as part of the scene and that curiosity led to the peace sign. Another confidence booster to show that most people view people with a camera as completely normal. A nice capture of an era that is coming to an end as the horse drawn carriages are virtually all replaced by trucks.
So here I got closer. Everyone knows I am taking pictures, but they are comfortable with me. I am part of the scene, a man with a camera, no harm. If I had seen any resistance or defensiveness I would have backed off and found a different spot. I walked in and began snapping pictures, when they turned to look at my I smiled. The smiled, waved and went back to what they were doing. Bang, image captured.
Same market, different stall and same approach and result. A smile, a friendly wave and business continues. Compose, wait and fire. Then I kept shooting and began speaking to the man behind the counter. The owner came out and we chatted for a little while. He invited be to the back.
There is Alberto, in the back of his store showing off his inventory. A man who understood our curiosity, and was happy with us taking pictures. From street to environmental portrait after a friendly word and smile. Confidence growing with every shot and with every shot my hit rate increases. My confidence sets people at ease.
A real test as I approach a man with a knife and start taking pictures. If he took offense it would have been a short conversation. But I have a great deal of confidence at this point. But to show that this image was not a quick snap, but the result of methodical composing, framing, shooting and repeating, here is the contact sheet of the image above.
I move on, leaving the market, with a confident walk. I have found my rhythm and I am happy with the images I am taking. I walk down he street, shooting some different scenes but there are few people on the street. I then find an old store front, selling shoes. It is a cobbler who will make shoes for you. An old profession which is quickly disappearing. The shop looks amazing so I step inside.
I ask her permission to take some pictures in the store explaining that there are few cobblers left, and I would love to have some images of such an amazing store. She is flattered and happy to share. She pulls out an old photograph, she is a young girl on the bottom left of the photo, and it is a picture of her family and employees at the store. Her father began the business and he brought over the entire family from Italy. They all worked at the store, they raised families because of the store and sent their kids to college. Their kids became doctors, lawyers and engineers. She stayed with the store, it can no longer support more than her family. But it made so many dreams become reality.
While she tells me her amazing tale, I snap pictures, I talk and snap. I smile, the story is sad but the happy faces in the photograph show that while the store is in its final chapter, it made a family come together and helped them thrive in the New World. Of all the images I took, this one was my keeper. Her gesture to her heart showing what the store and memories mean to her. She will continue to make shoes until her time is done. Her kids will likely sell the building which they own. The final gift from her father to three generations of family members.
We have all suffered the tourist spots with all these randomly dressed, annoyingly happy tourists jumping into our shot. I have written before on the attitude adjustment that I had to go through to just accept them and try to incorporate them. Looking over all of the images from previous vacations, I find that my best shots have people in the frame.
The shot above was a throw away image taken with my Leica ME. I love the frame and bright colors contrasted with the deep black of the tunnel. This shot has fascinating people standing, waiting, walking, running or talking.
We are drawn to buildings and smaller permanent cultural reminders and focus our attention on these. Going to the Parthenon can be a wonderful experience however it has not changed in 500 years! But the people, walking around, looking and marveling at the beauty, have changed.
If we look at the images we love, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sabine Weiss, Fan Ho and others, the magic in their images are the people they capture. It is the people, dressed in the fashion of the time, that help us put the scene in context.
The next time you are out with your camera on a family vacation, take a moment to look at the people around you, the locals, tourists and other photographers. These are the people that help define a place. Find an interesting background and wait a few minutes. Look for the interesting person walking by and take your picture.
This simple picture will be a keeper and one of your favorite images of the vacation. The human element is the most intriguing in any photograph we just need to be willing to capture it.
Today's post will be a quick one. I wanted to share a realization I had today that has helped me to get more enjoyment out of my darkroom. It is not a revolutionary concept but a hidden nuance that changes the approach to this wonderful hobby. Let me explain.
I have had a darkroom for a number of years. When I was in Australia, I used the guest bathroom which meant I had to rig up all the equipment then rig it all down when done. This meant that going to the darkroom represented 45 minutes of prep time and 45 minutes of putting everything away.
In London, I had a shack outside with a rather sizable dry darkroom. It was great as I could leave everything rigged up and ready to go. The challenge was that the darkroom suffered the elements. In winter it was freezing cold. I also felt isolated from the rest of the house. I also had to bring in the water to be able to use it.
Moving to Jakarta Indonesia, I have a separate room on the side of the house with water. Today, after work, I felt like going into the darkroom but just for a few minutes. I walked in, printed a single negative (two prints with four test strips) and walked out. Easy, simple and fast. Now going to the darkroom is not an event that has to take hours. I can go in for 45 minutes and walk out. Nice, easy and fast.
This is the hidden benefit of having a darkroom that is nearby, temperature controlled with access to water. It makes it easy for you to enjoy your hobby anytime. This is why I believe that a dedicated space brings so much more enjoyment to the hobby than something you have to set up and take down.
Ah yes, the wonder, beauty and necessity of clean, pure water! The above shot was taken in the Cayman Islands back in 2011. Such crystal clear water makes it a wonderful place to kick back and enjoy. But clean water is not something easy to find. Living internationally we have often been forced to use bottled water as the liquid that comes from the tap is anything but water!
When I began developing my own film I started to read about the use of distilled water for all chemical mixing and the cleaning of film. I was living in Perth Australia at the time which enjoys some excellent tap water if a bit on the hard side. As I moved to London, I noticed slight changes in my chemical mixes but nothing to worry about. Now I find myself in Jakarta and I am having a host of issues with finding clean, pure and consistent water.
I decided it was time to do a bit of a deep dive into the simplest of items, water and why it is so critical in the development process. Most of what I read was online from a variety of sources but one of my main sources is the "Sciencing" website.
Why would we want to use distilled water?
The advantage of distilled water is the consistency. Since the only molecules you have will be water, it ensures that you do not have variation in mineral content in your water. When you mix chemicals together, different molecules will react differently when put together. Reducing all other molecules and leaving only water, ensures that you are getting the chemical reactions you are looking for and nothing else.
My tap water is clean enough to drink from, can't I just use that?
Sure. You can use anything you like and if you have been developing film using your tap water without issues then why change? The problem is if you are getting some variations in your chemistry it can become impossible to track down the problem is your variables keep changing.
A proper chemistry experiment requires that you only change one variable at a time. So if you are testing three different development chemicals then you want to keep all other variables the same. The same temperature, the same water and same volumes. If your tap water is not consistent, this can make it impossible to predict your results.
Where can I get distilled water?
You can buy distilled water in gallon jugs, in smaller water bottles. It is typically a little more expensive that normal bottled water but not by much. If you look at the label you should see a 0ppm of other minerals. This means that there are 0 parts per million of other minerals in the water.
Do you use distilled water for everything in film development?
Heck no! I use distilled water to mix chemicals. So my developer, stop and fix baths are all mixed with distilled water. I rinse my film with tap water until the final rinse where I switch to distilled water to leave less streaks.
The time and energy it takes me to make distilled water ensures that I only use it when I need it. It is perfectly safe and keeps for a long time provided the container does not release chemicals into the water. I suggest glass bottles if at all possible.
What is the quantitative difference between distilled and tap water?
Ok so it is easy to say that if you spend more money on this "special" water your pictures will come out better but that is very hard to prove. The fact is that water quality will not impact the quality of your photography but can impact the consistency of your development which impacts you negative. But can we quantify the difference between distilled water and tap water?
Yes, yes we can. To do so we have to use a TDS measuring devise. A TDS measures "Total Dissolved Solids" and it measures it in PPM or Parts Per Million. For the USA drinking water is considered excellent if TDS is less than 300 ppm (or mg/L). Now this does not mention what those solid particles are. If they are arsenic (a heavy metal that can be naturally found underground) then you want much less than this. But if most are salts then 300ppm or less is fine.
My distilled water reads around 1 ppm while my tap water is close to 200 ppm. My mineral water reads about 74 ppm and the purchased distilled water reads 1 ppm. SO we have a very wide quantity of solids, now I have no way of knowing what kind of solids are they. But if I were to mix my chemicals using local tap water I run a much higher probability of having an adverse chemical reaction than if I were to use my distilled water.
A few weeks ago,I went back into the Darkroom for the first time since arriving here in Jakarta. While there, I began to realize that my approach to film photography has changed some what. I mentioned this in a blog post or two, and I wrote a bit about it in some of the Darkroom pages above (see HERE) but I thought it was worthwhile to pull it all together. Nothing revolutionary here just a bit of a different approach.
I am shooting HP5+ with an exposure index (EI) of 200 instead of the recommended 400. This is my favorite set up now. But I have also changed my development and darkroom process to adjust for this. For example, I am developing the film at the recommended time for EI 400 and then remove 10%. End result is a very smooth image, great tonality and I find that the tones blend into each other much better.
The drawback of overexposing in the camera is the loss of 1 stop of light and the speed that it represents. But as explained in this article HERE, using HP5 gives me the latitude to shoot from 1600 to 100 with the same film!
Reading a recent article by Johnny Patience HERE, has introduced a new possibility of shooting HP5 overexposed and overdeveloped. Essentially that translates into shooting HP5 at 100 or 200 EI and then developing it as if I had shot it at EI 800. He recommends this approach for contrasty, thick negatives to give a good darkroom print as well as a scan. I have not tried this but it has given me something new to try!
In the Darkroom I have been using split grade printing which is explained HERE. This gives me the latitude for producing difficult prints in a much easier fashion. I highly recommend diving into it although the filters that Ilford sells are crazy expensive.
In terms of gear I am traveling lighter than before. Two film cameras (with these old cameras a back up is always a good idea) but one stays in the hotel. One digital camera and two lenses each. Lighter than normal but I believe this gives me more freedom. If I go on a photography specific vacation I will obviously carry much more.
So, all in all, minor adjustments but it seems to be working better.
The picture above was shot on my iPhone of a print I made this weekend. The image above is how I had seen the image and it is how I pictured the final print looking. To be clear the line in the middle of the column was actually there and is not a scratch on the negative!
The problem I encountered was that the negative has a massive dynamic range which gave me way too much contrast. I needed to mute the blacks but still give punch to the highlights and mid tones. I needed to do some split grade printing!
Fortunately for me, one of my favorite YouTubers just happened to have a video on how to split grade print (linked below) which walked me through the process. I thought I would show my own experiences through it.
The picture above is the first print I made (after the test strips of course). I determined that I needed 10 seconds to display the sky and give sufficient weight to the highlights. But it rendered everything very dark. Now I could opt to do some dodging and burning, but this would have been very difficult and taken ages. I could have exposed for less time, but the print would have been too soft.
In the image above I only used a 0 filter to soften the contrast down. I used this at 15 seconds (a full 5 seconds more than the very dark print above) and now I have all the detail that I want in the trees and lower portion of the image. My issue is that I lacked a bit of the punch I needed in the middle tones and highlights.
So I decided to add a 3 filter after laying the 15 seconds of 0 filter. So I put a new sheet and ran 15 seconds under 0 filter, and without moving the negative or the paper, I changed the filter to a 3 filter for 5 seconds.
I would like to give a special shout out to "Shoot Film Like a Boss" for the very informative video. I have been watching his videos for the past few months and really love what he puts out. I highly recommend his channel!
I am an eclectic shooter in every sense of the word. I like shooting multiple cameras, I like digital, film and would LOVE to learn glass plate photography, I shoot multiple genres including portraits, architecture, landscape and street. This being said, I have recently decided to shoot only one B&W film.
This has nothing to do with having found the 'perfect' film, but has allot to do with versatility. Up until now, my 35mm go-to film has been Ilford's HP5+ and Fomapan 100. I liked this combination as it gave me an ISO 100 film, for fine grain work and a high speed film that could be pushed from ISO 400 to 3200! With these two films I had fine grain all the way to the low light stuff!
The two drawbacks were that I had to keep two films in stock and I have to process both films differently. If I could consolidate to one film type, I could standardize my development, reducing changes for error and simplifying my life. But I needed a slower film for some of my work and HP5+ at 400 just was not slow enough.
Then I started pulling HP5+ to an Exposure Index of 200. The first few attempts were not really noteworthy and I dropped it. Then I tried exposing at 200 but developing at the recommended timings (as if I had exposed at 400). This came VERY close to what I wanted. When I reduced the time by 10% I found a result I fell in love with!
The one stop difference in speed is not worth keeping both Foma and HP5+ so I have consolidated my film to Ilford. I still have a 100ft bulk roll of Foma100 film that I will enjoy shooting. I love this film, it is inexpensive, fine grained and easy to work with. It is a bit thiner than HP5+ making it more likely to curl but this is easily fixed with a heavy book.
So for my B&W 35mm work I will be purchasing HP5+ in bulk exclusively. For my other formats I buy what I find. While I love HP5+ in medium format there are times it is too expensive or difficult to find. So I will shoot whatever I can find. Same for my 4x5.
A challenge of learning any new skill set is one of access to information. I remember the amount of time, energy and money I spent obtaining my Engineering Degree and while it was the single best investment I have ever made, it highlighted the cost of obtaining knowledge.
Hobbies work the same way. Regardless of what you choose to enjoy, it will cost you time and possibly money to learn how to follow your hobby. With Photography we have a wonderful group of people who are happy to help. All you need to do is reach out and ask.
Here are some of the places I have used to some information and have found the people associated with them to be very friendly. This is not an all encompassing site, and does not include the pay for education sources available.
Vintage Camera Collectors is a great source of wonderful information. I used to log into FB once a week and since joining this group I have been going in everyday to get my fix on cameras. Very friendly, no trolls and a great source of information and people.
Olympus OM 35mm is dedicated to Olympus Cameras. I happen to think that the OM-1 is one of the best cameras ever made and these people tend to agree. Thanks to them I spent the money to buy a 85mm f/2 lens which is one of the best lenses I have seen. It rivals and surpass some of my better Zeiss glass.
Pinhole Photography is an awesome site! Everything you need to know about Pinhole Photography can be found here. Reach out and they are happy to help!
Most recently I found Mike Eckman Dot Com site. I sent Mike a question regarding a new vintage camera I bought and he came back with the solution very quickly. The site is filled with great reviews, something I should learn how to do. The reason his reviews stand out is that he goes into the history of many of the cameras. Clearly a knowledgable guy who is willing to help out.
35hunter is a site that is great feed for your muse. I use it less for knowledge gathering and more to get inspired. I love that they challenge what a 'good picture' is. So they are not afraid to cut people's heads off or other supposed no-no. Sometimes they miss but more often then not, they nail some amazing shots.
Photocamel.com is a great site. I have been a member for years and get a great deal of support from the community there. Most of the support is digital related but still a great place to go.
Film and Darkroom User....ok these guys are AMAZING. They support all analog photography. The only drawback is that they are in the UK and many of their events are UK focused. They have a system where you can exchange darkroom prints with other hobbyists which gives you an avenue to get some critiques or just share your work with people who appreciate it.
While not a complete lis, these are my main go to site for information and inspiration.
The days seem to get longer, the weekends rush by and my temper sours, it is time for a vacation. A time to get some distance from my problems and focus on something completely new. For me this usually means travel, as I have been fortunate enough to have ample opportunity to do so.
Everyone plans their vacation differently, some go for the spontaneous trip, I have always envied those people, and some go for the carefully planned trip. I am obviously the latter. I am happy to leave ample time for spontaneous events, so long as they are well planned in my itinerary!
So how do you plan a vacation when taking film? Twenty years ago this was not a question, you would toss your film camera in a bag with the roll that was already in it, arrive at your destination and pick up film in any of the millions of places around town. Nice, simple.
These days finding film is not easy. As you do a search on the internet you will find all kinds of conflicting information about X-ray, hand carry, insurance and so forth. I thought I would simplify it down based on traveling with film for the last five years all over the globe.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.