Photography grain is a living, breathing aspect of our art. They are often considered the imperfections that make a photograph perfect. While there is a great deal of talk about grain, both in the digital and film realm, there is very little objective discussion seen.
Here there is a comparison between a digital photograph at 3,200 iso (albeit and old Nikon D80 camera) and a shot taken on old Tri-X at 400 iso. The author compares the grain with close up photographs to illustrate the similarity in grain. The problem with comparing film with digital is two fold; first film was made to be printed in a darkroom. It was designed to be made into a tangible photograph while digital was made for computer viewing. The difference is explained below. Second, the digital revolution had changed our approach to grain in a very fundamental way. What was an inescapable part of film photography is now something we have a choice over. The choice changes our perspective on grain.
Film Grain Scan vs Darkroom:
Let me tackle the first portion of my statement. When I first got into film photography I was shocked at the amount of grain in my photographs. I tried to recall my father's old photographs and did not remember seeing as much grain. I went to my photography books and aside from a few images, did not see the same amount of grain I was experiencing.
I blamed my development at first. I looked through different sites to see what I was doing wrong. I tried to agitate more and then less, I developed at warmer and then cooler temperatures, everything to find the trick to get rid of all my grain.
This continued until I finally got my darkroom set up. All of my digitally scanned, grainy film were able to produce some wonderfully smooth prints. A scanned film photograph begs to be zoomed in while a print must be seen as the entire image. The darkroom process determines the level of enlargement, and the emphasis on grain achieved. Once printed the image perspective cannot be altered.
This is not to say that there is no grain in the darkroom print, but rather that the final image cannot be zoomed to 100%. At best, it will be held a foot or two from the viewers face. A scanned copy gives us the ability, and actually invites a person to zoom into a level that no viewer would actually use.
For further comparisons, I have a full picture scanned and digitally processed compared to a photograph of the actual darkroom print.
Every piece of grain captured during the digital scanning process is indeed there. Grain is not altered however as soon as the image is converted into binary data we are empowered to zoom into different portions of the photo. Grain does not change, how we view images has. Pleasing grain in a print (digital or darkroom) is vastly different than that viewed on a computer screen.
An image, any image must be taken with the understanding of what will happen to it. My iPhone snapshots are precious to me. They show a candid moment in my life and I take them to share with friends and family. I do that via social media and have rarely if ever printed an iPhone photograph.
When I pull out my film cameras I am imagining the photograph in the darkroom, the final tangible photo in my hand and ultimately in a frame or album. The grain peeping, zooming in for all a photo is worth is simply not done, either in the iPhone shot or my printed images.
Grain (digital noise) as a Choice:
In the digital realm, our approach to digital noise has been forever altered. Now your choice of camera determines the amount of digital noise you have to live with. When I used my Nikon D300, I was paranoid about reducing this digital noise. Then I found a website which has since disappeared, which recommended approaching your family photographs as a documentary. Capturing the moment is more important than the image quality.
This simple concept changed my approach to photography. It freed me from capturing the perfect shot from an Image Quality perspective, and allowed me to just capture the perfect family moment. I stopped caring about digital noise at that point and my photography improved.
Here is a shot that I really like. I took this at a park hear home. There is a little outdoor cafe which has this stand of Sauces. It was winter so the colors were subdued but the condiment tray had bright yellow, red and blues. This coupled with the warm brown tones of the wood really caught my eye.
Lets hope for better weather this weekend!
I saw this from about 100 yards away. I loved the old tree and the twisted wire hanging from a limb. The story is simple, while plowing the field in the background, the team found this wire and hung it out of the way. There it sits, still to this day. Looking at the vast swaths of land all around, and the few trees providing shade for the animals, it is too much to take in with a camera.
Even wide angle lenses fall short. How can you capture the rough, open feel of the place? I grasped this detail and captured it in various formats. This image was shot using the Pentacon Six on HP5+ film. Much of the vacation I spent exploring the details that tell the story better than trying to capture the entire thing.
With these images, a simple picture does not tell the entire story. It gives you a taste, an appetizer if you will. But in order to understand the context, the depth and the sense of character of this place, you have to see a story line of the different images. Four or five images of detail can easily express the qualities that define life out on an Argentine ranch.
This was an image I took of my son and his grandfather sitting in his workshop. As you can see it is a working mans shop with plenty of work in progress. There was very little light so I used my Leica ME with a 15mm Voigtlander lens. I shot this at iso 800, f/4.5 and a 1/60sec shutter speed. Even so I had to increase the exposure in post processing. I love this image and wanted to do something with it.
I turned to Ilford Laban sent off two images to them on Thursday night. The pictures arrived at my house on Saturday morning. The quality is fantastic, the price is very attractive and the turn around time was astonishing. I was happy enough with the prints to have a few more made.
A few years ago I had purchased an Epson 3000 printer. It was expensive, massive and the ink became stopped up. The ink costs an arm and a leg as well. While I enjoyed the challenge of making the perfect print, I have since decided that it makes more sense to leave it to the experts. At less than 5 GBP for an 8x10 print I cannot complain.
I believe 2017 should be the year of the print, whether it is darkroom or digitally printed does not matter. There is nothing as satisfying as seeing a print you worked on hanging on the wall. Below is a shot of the final product.
Coming back from vacation is a busy time! I have developed three 135 rolls of film and four 120 rolls of film. In the process I have mixed new developer, fixer and stop bath. I have been scanning film, mowing lawns and getting some office work done. I have gotten prints made, framed them and hung them up. It has been busy to say the least!
So I am trying something new with regard to mixing developer. Let me explain. I have been using Ilford ID-11 for a long time now. I like the developer as it is available in a powder form which allows me to make a 5L jug at a time. The last time I made developer was in January of this year. Here we are in April and the developer is still working great.
I was down to my last liter of ID-11 so it was time to mix some more. I already had the powder in my cabinet so I began mixing it by following the directions. I then took my last liter of old developer and mixed it in with the new one. This last bit is the new step. When developer is fresh it seems to make very harsh contrast. I tried to mix the last liter of the old developer in with the new to soften it up a bit. I processed two rolls and I am very happy with the results.
I mixed new stop bath and new fixer as well. On top of the chemical preparation, film development and the honey do list, I also sent off a couple of digital pictures to be printed. I am thrilled with the results of the prints but will go into that in some other post.
My plan is to spend this weekend developing and spend one day next weekend in the darkroom making some prints. I am hopeful that I will be able to make a little photo book of the film images so that I can share with family. With a little luck it might just happen!
Short post today but too much to do. Hope you are all having a great weekend and manage to get a few pictures worth keeping!
So before leaving on vacation, I did a bit of research to see how the masters tackled portrait work. I picked up a few key tips from that research and put them to some use while on vacation.
The shot above is of my son, Gabriel. He is wearing his grandfather's hat and was walking past a white wall I had selected as a backdrop for some portraits. I picked it because of the texture and very white would help reflect some light. I took a reflector but did not use it on this image.
I wanted him just off center and I wanted the classic placement where his eyes are right at the top third division of the photograph. While he is photogenic, I spoke to him a bit to get him to relax. I kept it down to four shots to avoid him becoming bored. He enjoyed it and I managed to grab this picture which really captures his personality.
In terms of gear, I used my Leica ME with the Zeiss 50mm lens. I got dow to slightly below his eye level to avoid too much shadow from the hat.
For post processing, I did the conversion in Lightroom and cropped it down to an 8x10 losing a chunk of the top of the image. This helped get him centered where I wanted him. It is a simple post processing job just the way I like it.
I took several portrait images using my Pentacon Six but have not developed it yet. Even so, if no other portrait comes out I am happy with this result. The boy was in the right mood, my camera was near and he had borrowed his grandfather's hat which gives the portrait and interesting focal point. It adds character to his sun kissed freckles.
Every photographer has his or her own way of doing things. Some travel light, some bring the kitchen sink, some develop immediately while others wait and slowly catch up. I have tried it all it seems, and have slowly fallen into a routine for each trip. Targeted images are listed, locations noted and gear selected based on the kind of images I am after. When I return there is a set sequence of things that I do to get organized again.
Moisture and fungus is a constant threat for photographers. I have seen more lenses damaged due to fungus then due to scratches. So when I return the very first thing I do is pull out all the gear out of the travel bag, load it into an air tights tub after removing lens caps and opening the camera backs, and put a moisture absorbing gel with them. I leave them that way for a couple of days at least to pull out all the moisture from the trip.
On this particular trip, I was traveling home to the family ranch. I had never really taken film pictures of the ranch and really wanted to focus on that medium. I shot five rolls of 120 HP5+ film, two 120 rolls of Portra 160 and 12 rolls of 135 film. I mostly focused on portraits and details around the ranch. I hope to be able to pull it into a small photo book about the trip.
Regardless of what I do with the final images, that is a great deal of developing time that I need to put in. Most of the 135 film is either Foma100 or HP5+, which helps however the film was shot at different ISO values which complicates things a bit.
My method for dealing with this is to divide up the rolls of film based on development time. I then try to get them done in batches of 3 rolls at a time. This is large enough to make a dent but small enough to be able to shoot different ISO values.
We arrived back this morning, the gear is in its dryer and I have downloaded a few of the digital files. I will now set out to develop a few rolls of film! The journey is not over for me until the film is developed and a few prints made.
After studying some amazing portraits, I began seeing a similarity that was a bit shocking. The shot above has some of the portraits that I have looked at. Do you see the common theme? Lets walk through these and see what obvious similarities we can see...
The majority are in B&W. There are some color images but few. The majority seem to want to strip away the distractions that color can introduce.
The backgrounds are bland. Most do not have a background at all, a white or grey background and nothing else. Those without a backdrop are simplified with a shallow depth of field.
The sitter is in the middle of the image. Each and every time....or are they....lets take a deeper dive. For this study I picked an image of Twiggy by Bert Stern. I kept away from my favorite photographers as I wanted a rather objective look. For comparison I have an image of Gaddafi shot by Platon.
Another interesting thing to note is the lens selections. While I do not know what lenses they chose, I see a typical 50mm type shot of Twiggy but with Gaddafi, I see a wider image. Platon got a bit lower than his subject, which emphasizes the subject's power. Twiggy was shot head on with perhaps a slight downward slant.
What I am getting from this deep dive is that these portraits are closer to head shots. Again lighting is perfect, soft with little shadows. The sitter's face fills the image. Expression is obviously critical and the selection of B&W and a neutral background allows the viewer to only focus on the portrait itself.
I need to practice a few of these techniques. Not sure if I like the wide angle view for a portrait but I do like the frame filling approach and the bland background. The challenge is the facial expression. This is where these masters really stand out.
Another memorable portrait from Bown. Here Samuel Beckett is the subject, and Jane Bown showed up late and she thought she had missed the chance for her shot. Never one to give up easily, she went to the back of the theater and saw him walking out. She captured an amazing image.
His eyes convey so many emotions, tired, lonesome yet strong and honest. He deep wrinkles show character and the background fades off to nothingness. There is nothing but his eyes....lighting perfect, image clean and expression is thoughtful. What a powerful portrait!
Again we find lighting and expression....and details....
The image below is one of my favorite portraits of my father. It was taken in Piedmont Italy on vacation. We were sitting outside under an umbrella in a typically cloudy day. The lighting was soft and the expression is my father. Pensive and strong...
Lighting and expression....the rest is details....
So I have recently been looking over and posting about romantic images, by which I mean images that convey a clear nostalgic emotion. I then began thinking that I will be vacationing with some family soon and that I would like to capture some memorable portraits. So, time to deep dive some Memorable Portraits!
This one comes from Jane Bown was a famous photographer for the Telegraph here in England. She was known for the portraits of the powerful and famous. She never took too many images and usually could get what she wanted in a few shots. She did not like to waste film!
Here we have a wonderful portrait of Orson Wells taken in the 1950's. This is an amazing photograph. The intensity of his eyes is impossible to imitate. He was angry and did not want to waste time with a portrait. She captured his intensity and she did it very naturally. The lighting is perfect with only his face being lit.
While in this image, Bown captured sheer intensity of Wells, the real quality of this image is made by the lighting. The complete blackness makes his face appear as if it is floating. Portraits are about two things, lighting and facial expression. The rest is details.
Below is an image I took of my wife in a bar. We were sitting next to a massive window with reflected light bouncing into the bar. My wife was a bit tired and thinking back to all the sites we had visited. I pulled out my camera and stole this image. The expression is very pensive and the lighting was perfect.
Lighting & Expression.....the rest is details...
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.