It is a lazy Sunday morning, the neighborhood is quiet and I just finished a relaxed check on my film stock and found that I have a roll of TMAX400 120 format film that is expiring this month. So I loaded the roll onto my Hasselblad A24 back (more on this in a bit) and will take a walk around my neighborhood to try to capture 11 or 12 (the A24 back yields uneven spacing so occasionally I lose one image) images that tell the story of this neighborhood.
Before we begin let me set explain the challenge. The first part of the challenge is that I will shoot, develop and scan in one day. I probably wont make it into the darkroom today but we will see how it goes.
The second part has to do with my neighborhood. In Jakarta we live in a enclosed neighborhood, which means that everything is a bit boring compared to the streets of Jakarta so I will need to venture out a bit. There is a safety risk here, not really in terms of violence or theft but due to the number of cars, motorbikes and lack of a sidewalk. I will have to pick my composition based on safety first and getting the shot second.
Another challenge is in the format itself as the 120 format in 6x6 only allows 12 shots. It is difficult to find a rhythm when you keep having to reload film. I have an A12 back which has a half shot roll of HP5. I will take this plus one extra roll to give me a better chance at finding a rhythm.
So I left the house at 10am and returned at about 11:30, just in time for lunch. It was hot (Jakarta is always hot), but I had a great time. After lunch I developed the rolls and let them dry while I worked on some 35mm I developed on Saturday.
The pictures came out very well with only one that was a bit soft on focus. The only real issue was keeping the camera level. I have not shot with the Hasselblad and I guess I have become sloppy. You will see it in a couple of images so I do apologize.
I shot Tmax400 at an EI of 250. I developed the film in ID-11 at a 1:1 for 10min 15 seconds. This gave me a very nice contrasty image while keeping the grain I control. Overall I am pleased with the film and the results have deep tonalities, proper blacks with nice highlights.
You will see two shots of the same scene (the one with C pipes). The first was shot at 1/30 sec and the second at 1/60 sec. I first shot the scene as per my light meter, and then I realized that it would be too light. So I shot another with a faster shutter speed to give it the look I was after.
I love my gear, I enjoy spending time on YouTube to see what creative photographers are doing but we need to stop. We need to stop with the countless reviews of gear that has already been done a thousand times. How many different ways do you want to look at the Leica M6? I like this camera, but does it deserve three thousand reviews, years after it was pulled from production?
Film and the cameras that consume it, is becoming more popular, but do we need to continue speaking of the soul that photography has and how the Leica taps into that? I get it, it is a nice camera and sexy to film. I appreciate that making a video on film photography is easiest to do when filming the gear involved.
But we need to demand more from people who are making videos. We need them to show us something new, even if it is new to them as well. How to videos should not be about how to load film, zone focus or about verbalizing love of gear. We need YouTube creators to bring something more to the table, to advance film photography beyond gear.
I appreciate those that try to teach darkroom skills, film development techniques and the like. These videos have not been overdone, and each person brings their own methodology and insight into it. This demands that the YouTube creator actually go out and try something new, learn a skill and come back to discuss it. Hard work.
I would love to see more videos on photography. Let me explain, photography is about the photograph. It would be great to see creative minds study a photograph and walk us through what they are seeing. Discuss the composition that makes it work, the photographers selection of the scene and why it works so well. Ted Forbes used to do this (below are some links to his older videos that I love) but soon stopped.
Why do we not see more of that? Because it is work. Going into a darkroom and filming, editing and posting a video is hard work. Doing the background research on a photograph is again, hard work. Making a video about a camera that has been done before is easy. Look through a few videos to get some ideas, set up a digital camera to record you and talk into the camera. You can even preface it by saying that this is just your "opinion" and you are not an "expert" this way no one will hold it against you is you say something that is incorrect.
I do not troll people's videos and I do not leave negative comments because I appreciate that the creator may be on their own creative journey. But we should support the creators who actually go out of their way to do something innovative. The ones that put in the hard work and try to teach others. We need to stop watching countless gear videos.
Take a look at a few of these positive examples.
Shoot Film Like a Boss
Ted Forbes The Old Stuff
The Master Class
Photography is the art of the capture. If you love photography, you love that hunt, the planning and the final capture of an image. When you return from your vacation, exposed film rolls in hand or memory cards full, the question becomes what you do with all these images? What do you do upon returning home?
I have just come back from a trip to Cambodia, and I am sharing what I have learned and a few of the images of the five rolls I took, on this blog. As I finish developing the five rolls, I found myself in the darkroom selecting and making some prints. When I print images from a vacation, I am looking to select the images that help tell the story of our visit. Images that help define a place and the people who live there.
Out of the 180 film images I captured, I will select 20-30 images to print. I will also select some of the 500 digital images I have taken to get printed as well. In the end I will have between 30-50 images that will be my definition of the trip. But once this is done then what?
The first thing to do is print, it does not matter how. It could be in a darkroom, on a home printer or taking the images to a professional printer. The size of the prints are not important but the fact that you do print is vital. There is something special about holding the two dimensional image in your hand.
But then what? What do you do with the images when finally made? Here, I hope to give you some ideas that you might not have thought about.
The Photo Album:
This is the most traditional of options for your printed pictures. Putting together a photo album can be as simple as putting them in a specially made album, with small notes written beneath them. Or it can be as complicated as making a unique piece of art, with little mementos of the trip such as train tickets, hotel brochures and dried flowers.
A few words of advice if this is the path you would like to follow. First, be sure the images are completely dry before putting them in. If printed in a dark room, leave them out for a week in a dry environment to ensure all moisture has gone. If printed from a home printer, or professional, I suggest leaving them to dry at least three days. This ensures that when placed in the album, they will not bare any ill marks due to moisture.
Second, write the annotation on the back of the photo as well. Dates and places are key as are the names of the people in the photograph. This ensures that if the photo falls out of an album, you can quickly see what the photo is about.
Third, do not try to make the album too big. Keep it small and try to limit the number of photos on each page. The simple page, with an image or two will be more powerful then dozens of pictures on the same page.
If using glue, ensure it is acid free glue. The last thing you want is the photograph to suffer damage due to the glue.
The Photo Box:
This is one of my favorite methods to use recently. The idea is to purchase a box, roughly the size of the prints you are going to make, and store the images in there. Again you can add mementos such as tickets and the like within the box. Here, leaving a bit of room at the bottom of the image to write a bit about it would help or you can just write in the back.
A few words of advice on this system. First, dry the images again. Because they are loose in the box this is less of an issue but still a good practice to get into. Second, keep the boxes small. These need to be stored after all. A small box, about an inch deep will store plenty of images and still be easy to keep.
Hanging on a Wall:
This is really the best way to preserve and show your images. The problem is that one runs out of wall space rather quickly. I like to keep this for the absolute best images and the one that will bring to mind the memories of that trip.
Again I suggest that the image be dried as explained above before putting behind glass. Second, if the image will be in direct sun light, I suggest putting it behind treated glass which helps reduce the fading that will occur. If out of the direct sunlight this is not needed. Professionals will seal the image into the frame with humidity proof tape. This is done in a dry environment to prevent condensation when the temperature drops. You can do the same thing at home, or if the frame is cheap, let it breath through he gaps in the back of the frame.
This is one of my favorite things to do. I will select an image that I really like, print it up in the darkroom. After allowing it to dry, I will write a special note on the back and give it to a friend. Sometimes I will frame it but other times I will leave it for them to do anything they wish to it.
The fact is that in today's digital world, few people hold photographs anymore. Giving them a picture of something memorable on the trip, is something that few people get the chance to enjoy. I explain that there is no need to hang it or do anything with it other than look at it and enjoy it. Not everyone has the same taste so they may want to feel safe turning it into a bookmark (you can even print it with that in mind).
Christmas cards are a wonderful time to do this. To send a unique photograph to a few close family or friends is a great way to show you care.
The mixing of religions, cultures and philosophies has defined Cambodia and its people. The constant wars with neighboring states as well as countries that few Cambodian's knew existed, helped shape the art and attitude of its people. When I first arrived, I took everything that I saw for granted, as if it was the singular culture of the region. As I began to look closer, and compare what I was seeing with my other travels, I was able to see the pattern for its individual weaves. From the influence of India and China, due to the Silk Road passing through there, to the modern impact of imperialism, communism and democratic ideology.
"My friend called me and was telling me to go to the city and learn. I was doubtful, until my friend told me something that drove me to leave everything I knew, and everything I loved. He told me, 'if you do not come to get an education, you will never be able to travel and see the world'. I could not imagine a life without traveling to see the world. The next day I left home."
The shot above was captured with my Nikon F2 using HP5+ at an exposure index of 200. It is a shot inside the famous Angkor Was temple but it is a bit of a "tall tale". The reality is that this place is crawling with tourists who do not respect the posted signs so they are literally climbing the walls. Here I managed to find a family empty corridor and beside the corridor was this scene. I captured a few versions of it, some with my sons leg in it and other annoying intrusions. So if you plan a trip, accept the tourists as part of the experience.
Cambodia is about rocks, trees and people (both local and tourists). It has had its share of rough history, the killing fields we visited I did not take pictures of, but it has evolved into a poor but wonderful country. Angelina is revered there, not because of her humanitarian efforts, but because she helped put Cambodia on the map.
Shoot pictures of rocks on film is easy. These temples beg for B&W conversion (if shooting digital) or B&W film. It is all about texture with little color to add much if anything to a composition. The trees are a different matter. Lush greens mixed with wonderful brown bark give you some great compositional elements if shooting in color. So I would recommend either taking B&W and Color film or also taking a digital camera.
So what is the best film to capture the human spirit? Nothing can, but your outlook as a photographer should change. You are there not to highlight the differences between your home and Cambodia, but rather the similarities across cultures, to shoot the very things that make us all human.
Ah, yes the tourist. You will find a few of them. If you want to avoid them, travel outside of Siam Reap, where you will find some amazing temples, locals and monkeys, but few if any tourists. But if you embrace the tourist as a vital part of the new Cambodia economy, then they become a part of the story. Why tell the story of ancient Cambodia alone? Why not put it into modern context?
Hit rate, or the number of good shots versus missed shots. Simple concept but a much more nuanced philosophy when you dig down into it. What determines what is a "hit" versus a "miss"? Does a higher percentage of "hits" mean that you are a better photographer? Is it binary, in other words, a hit or a miss and nothing in-between? If so, does this make all "hits" equal? How can a professional photographer go out on a shoot and be sure they will get a "hit"?
As I started in photography I was disappointed to see that I only had a 5-10% "hit" rate. As I learned more about photography, I realized that after several thousand images I did not have a single "hit". What I thought were "hits" did not deserve to see the light of day. Does that sound harsh? If so, good..it should.
The only person who should determine if a photograph is a "hit" or a "miss" is the photographer, and there is the problem. We are too forgiving of our photographs so we tend to see more "hits" then we have. A good photographer will filter their images several times before having a set of "hits".
For example, if a good photographer goes out and shoots 500 images during a weekend shoot, they may set the images aside for a few days before going through for the first selection process. This is simply cutting those that are out of focus, accidental shutter releases, movement of the subject and so forth. Once these are filtered out, the remaining images will be gone through much slower. They may be post processed to ensure that the images are straight, cropped properly and that shadow detail is visible. The photographer will select the best from these.
At the end of this process the photographer might have 25 images selected as the best. Then the photographer will take one more pass through them, and this is what most of us fail to do. In this final pass, the photographer is purposefully taking the 25 images down to one or two images. These will be the "hits" of the weekend.
After several weekends the photographer will pull together 25-30 "hits" and will go through them, selecting the best one or two to include in their portfolio. So out of several thousand images, the good photographer will add a couple of images to their portfolio at best.
So for a good photographer, there are different levels of "hits", from his top shots of a weekend, to the stop shots of several months of work. The difference between a good portfolio and a poor one has less to do with the skill of the photographer and more to do with the editing down of the images.
So how is it that a professional photographer can go out on a shoot and know that they will capture something for their client? Simple, they do two things that most novice photographers fail to do. The first is that, through experience, they have a series of "go to" shots that work. They know the lighting, the position they want their subject, the depth of field and the angle of the shot. A good photographer will have 15-20 of these "go to" shots that they know will work for most clients.
The second thing they do, is that they think though the shoot. They come up with ideas that they want to try, not just one or two but a dozen or more. Of this dozen ideas they hope to find one or two that work. So between their new ideas and their "go to" shots they should have six or seven "hits" for their client.
This sounds easy, but it is not. It requires experience, hard work and a keen understanding of the clients taste. I could not do this for a living! But I can learn from this process and apply some of these things to my own photography. Can I seek out some additional "go to" shots? Sure can. Can I be more brutal with my own images? Sure can.
A high hit rate might mean that you are a good photographer or it could mean that you are not being selective enough.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.