Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Color of Film

California Lupines At Sunset

The possibilities of digital photography began to catch my interest in the late 1990s.  Unfortunately, digital imaging technology was still in its infancy.  I continued to shoot film while waiting for the quality of digital cameras to improve.

There's a certain mystery to film.  Waiting days or weeks to see the results of an exposure can be frustrating.  You can't take a peek at the LCD screen and recompose or make other adjustments.  You need to evaluate each scene carefully and commit to your most skillful prediction.  No matter how much experience you have with film, there are always surprises.

The surprises may be pleasant, even exhilarating; sometimes not so much.  I've thrown entire rolls of film into the trash bin over the years.  I've also been seen jumping for joy beside a light table upon receipt of newly developed chromes.  Unpredictability is part of the adventure.

a large format photograph of california wildflowers at sunset
Lupines At Sunset, California Coast

Color reversal film, commonly known as slide film, is amazing for documenting colors.  These films are sensitive to slight color casts that our internal optical processing system filters out.

Our brain filters colors possibly in an attempt to protect us from recognizable threats.  If a berry with a certain shade of red will make us sick, we don't want that berry to look differently on a sunny day than it does on a cloudy day, or at sunset versus high noon.  Unfortunately, this built-in safety mechanism reduces our ability to see colors accurately and objectively.

Film doesn't filter colors automatically, nor does it engage the automatic white balance functionality of a digital camera.  Film records any color that was present at the time of exposure including colors that humans can't see.  But here is the interesting part - when we look at a finished slide or print of the scene, we do see those missing colors and we see them accurately.

I have yet to discover a good explanation for this paradox in color perception.  How is it that colors once invisible to use become visible once they have been recorded by photographic processes?  This is yet another reason why cameras tend to yield surprising results.

Photography helps us to see and to understand our world more clearly by showing us what we were unable to see in the moment. 

Camera: Ebony SV45TE
Lens: Schneider 110mm f/5.6 Super-Symmar XL
Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Discovering the Magic of the Familiar

Exploring Photo Opportunities Close To Home

Someone once said: "You can make good photographs anywhere.  You can even make good photographs in New Jersey."

I laughed when I head this quote. It seems like yet another good-natured Jersey joke, but it also contains valuable wisdom for photographers and artists in all genres. 

We don't need to visit exotic, far-away places in order to make appealing images. We can find worthwhile photographic opportunities near home no matter where we live - even if we live in New Jersey (as I did for many years). 

Working close to home has notable advantages.

It affords us the ability to visit locations again and again. If a subject doesn't work well in the morning, we can come back and photograph it again in the evening. If not in summer, try again in the winter or spring. If the flowers aren't blooming or the trees haven't changed color yet, we can try again next week. We can shoot familiar locations in all sorts of weather conditions.

Plus don't forget that shooting locally is cheaper than flying, and you don't have to take off your belt and shoes.

a photo of barnegat light lighthouse new jersey shore long beach island
Barnegat Light - Long Beach Island - New Jersey

This photo of Barnegat Lighthouse is a great example. I visited the lighthouse many times over the course of several years before I worked out the exact combination of camera, lens, light, and weather that I'd need to capture my vision. On many days, the light was a complete bust. Either I'd gotten there too late, or it was blocked by haze or clouds in the western sky. In fact, I had driven to the lighthouse one day before taking this photo and came away with nothing. But the next day everything finally came together.

Luckily, nobody had stolen the red picnic table in the meantime.  ;-)

a photo of sunset over marshland at sandy hook new jersey shore
Marshland At Sunset - Sandy Hook National Recreation Area

An even less likely candidate for an artistic image is this marshland at Sandy Hook. A hazy summer sky blocked most of the 'good' light on this particular day, but somehow it produced a dramatic and colorful sunset. The marsh waters reflected the color of the sky.

Note that no color filters were used to capture this shot. I didn't add any red or purple - that's the color of the sky captured directly onto a nice big piece of film.

I had made frequent trips to Sandy Hook throughout the year (braving swarms of aggressive mosquitoes and midges in the warmer months). I kept track of what the light was doing in a number of locations. On the day that the magic happened, I was ready. I knew instinctively where to go to get the shot.

a photo of the chapel at fort hancock sandy hook national recreation area
Chapel - Fort Hancock - Sandy Hook National Recreation Area

The chapel at Fort Hancock isn't a particularly impressive structure, but one day the setting sun gave it a warm glow. I took special steps to match the exposure of the white building with the darker grass.

a photo of an officers house at fort hancock sandy hook new jersey
Officer's Row House - Fort Hancock - New Jersey

If I were to select one image that summarizes everything that I've learned about photography over the years, this photo of an Officer's House at Fort Hancock would be on my short list. I won't go into great detail, but an awful lot of work and planning (and luck!) went into creating this shot.

For instance, this side of the building receives direct sunlight only two weeks out of the year. I knew the kind of shot that I wanted to make, but I had to wait for the planet to get into position before I could take it. That requires scouting, planning, and a measure of tenacity.

The exposure required techniques that I developed over years of practice. I used my view camera to eliminate distortion of the architectural details. The placement of the building, tree, and horizon line illustrate key elements of my compositional philosophy.

Finally, as for the windswept clouds and the con trails that match the slope of the roof precisely - let's just say that I've learned to recognize when the Good Lord is being kind to me, and I do everything in my power to avoid wasting those opportunities.

My sincere advice to any aspiring photographer would be to take your camera out and shoot something close to home. Then go back and shoot it again and again until you hit on just the right combination of elements. Familiar places can produce spectacular images when we photograph them at the right moment and under the right conditions.

            Ebony SV45TE view camera

            Nikon NIKKOR-SW 90mm f/4.5
            Schneider APO-Symmar-L 150mm f/5.6

            Fujifilm Velvia 100

(No digital cameras were harmed during the making of this post.)

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Revelation At Pigeon Point Lighthouse

"We Take Pictures Of Light"

It sounded so simple at the time. While leafing through a magazine that I was about to recycle, I came across an interesting passage. It puzzled me at first, but it would become the single most important piece of advice I that would receive as a photographer. I don't even remember the author's name - and I apologize for not quoting him here - but I do remember his words. The idea stuck in my mind because it challenged me to think in a new way.

"We don't take pictures of people, places, or objects.  We take pictures of light."

It would be years before I would understand the significance of this message, but one evening at Pigeon Point moved me closer toward that realization.

a photo of the pigeon point lighthouse in california with spring wildflowers
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Ebony SV45TE, Fujichrome Velvia 100

Light. Photographers talk about light all the time - good light, bad light, quality of light, the right light, the direction of light, waiting for light. But what is good light and where do you learn about it? I don't recall seeing any books or articles on the subject. Magazines and websites talk mostly about equipment. Photography books explain principles of exposure and composition, but the subject of light merits little discussion.

When I bought my first "serious" camera and started pointing it at the world, I had very naïve ideas about what constituted good light. My early attempts at photography suffered as a result. I assumed that a technical understanding of exposure and lenses and filters would create memorable images.

As a budding enthusiast I made a trip to California in search of photo opportunities. I had a nice camera, decent lenses, and I was surrounded by world class scenery, yet the photos from that trip were not particularly memorable. They were technically solid - the exposure was correct and the focus was accurate - but the images lacked impact. My limited understanding of light was a big factor.

I did gain some insights on the trip, and over time with more study and experimentation I made steady progress. When I returned to California two years later, I considered myself to be a seasoned and knowledgeable photographer. But there's always more to learn.

On the last day of my travels I planned make a stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It's one of my favorite destinations on the California coast. I would have limited time to shoot the sunset, then it would be off to the airport for an overnight flight.

Conditions were excellent. The calm air was clear and warm. Coastal plant life was in bloom. I was shooting during the last hour of daylight, the "golden hour" that landscape photographers pursue. I shot several rolls of film thinking that I was coming away with good images in good light. I was about to pack up and head toward the airport.

Then it happened. The light changed before my eyes. It morphed into something better, something amazing. It was richer, warmer, more colorful, and more magical than any light that I could remember having photographed before.  I was running short on time, but I couldn't leave. I needed to keep shooting. Luckily I still had some film in my bag.

I shot as many frames as I could. The light probably lasted all of about four or five minutes. When it faded, I quickly packed the car and sped off toward the airport. I was concerned about missing my flight, but I couldn't stop thinking about the majestic light that I had just witnessed. Why hadn't I seen it before, or if I had, why didn't I pay more attention? The photos from the entire trip would have been better if I could have anticipated and harnessed this phenomenon.

"We don't take pictures of people, places, or objects. We take pictures of light."

I was beginning to get the message.

Over the coming years I became a student of light. I actively pursued the conditions where the best light was likely to reveal itself. It doesn't happen every day, but I began to experience it more and more frequently as I learned what to look for.

Lighthouse Tower In Focus

On my next trip to California I shot primarily with a large-format view camera. The view camera has distinct advantages. First of all, the film is larger and can produce a finely detailed image when exposed carefully. View cameras also feature a flexible build. The lens and film planes are independently adjustable and linked together by a soft leather bellows. The flexible design helps eliminate distortion and solves some tricky focusing problems.

For instance, it's very difficult to get both near and far objects in focus. Usually, only one or the other will be sharp, but the view camera makes it possible to have them both in focus in many circumstances.

Foreground Flowers In Focus

At Pigeon Point I was able to use the special features of the view camera to keep both the flowers and the tower in sharp focus. The ocean has a softer, slightly out of focus look, which adds to the mood of the overall image. Luckily, I was very fortunate and met with excellent light on several occasions. The image displayed here is from one of those lovely sunsets.

A Note On Colors And Processing

Below I have included the original scan showing the film borders. I asked the technicians who scanned the file to add only enough processing to match the look of the original piece of film on a light box. They did an amazing job. If you view this piece of film on the light box it will match the color and contrast of the image that you see here. This is the advantage of shooting in good light. You don't need to apply a bunch of Photoshop tricks to make an appealing image. Recognizing good light is the biggest part of the battle.

a photo of the pigeon point lighthouse captured on fujichrome velvia 100
Same image with untrimmed film borders

Bottom line: It took a few years to develop the skills required to make this image, not the least of which was the ability to recognize good light and the conditions that foretell its arrival, and then to capture it effectively. The work that I put in over those years seems well worth it, as I carry the lessons of Pigeon Point and the magic of light with me every time I open my camera bag.

Camera: Ebony SV45TE
Lens: Nikkor SWA 90/4.5
Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved