It probably been easy to notice that my interaction with social media, and this blog, has slowed way, way down of late. Some of that has been due to the incredibly exciting and busy year of exhibitions and commercial work. But another reason is that I’ve dipped my toes back into film photography and that has slowed my image workflow down quite a bit.
This is the beginning of a series of blog posts that I’ll use to document this new chapter in my film photography life. But first let’s get a few disclaimers out of the way.
- I’m not giving up digital photography. It is, and will remain, an important part of my commercial workflow as well as my creative fine art landscape work. My anticipation is that my commercial work will remain all digital and my landscape work will become a hybrid of digital and film depending on my vision and the scene.
- I am not anti-digital photography. No soapbox here, just a desire to slow things down and become more intimate with the craft of photography.
So why film? After all isn’t it expensive, inconvenient and slow? Well the answer is probably yes to all of these. For me it comes down to three basic reasons: Authenticity, experience and knowledge.
Authenticity - There is a tremendous amount of digitally manipulated imagery on social media. And while I can appreciate the talent and artistry of these digital creations, My ambition is to go in the other direction and work to capture images in camera. My least favorite question to hear as a photographer is: “How Much Photoshop in That Image?”. My answer is always “None” but I want to go even further away from digital processing of my fine art images.
Experience - I once read a comment that every photographer owes it to themselves to view a slide on a light table. I thought that idea sounded nice but was stunned when I actually had the experience of seeing a Fujifilm Velvia slide on my own light table. But seeing the final result is only part of the grand experience of shooting film. Film completely changes how you think and shoot a scene. First off, each exposure has value, so I don’t waste them like I might with digital. And since they have value, I am very selective about what I shoot and take extra special care in how I setup for the shot.
Knowledge - Digital photography has made me lazy. Back in the day (think Punk / New Wave) when I shot a manual focus film camera I had an intimate and necessary understand of photographic principals. I could guess, with some accuracy, what exposure I needed, when I might need a filter and which film would best suit a scene. With our modern age of chimping, and bracketing, and HDR and Photoshop those skills are, for me, a distant memory. And I want them back. Film, especially Velvia 50 Color Slide Film, will crucify you if you miss your exposure by 1/2 to a 1 stop. By relearning these old, but necessary skills, my photography, both film and digital, can only improve.
How (Cameras & Film)
Returning to film ment that I had to add some gear. And searching for old film cameras is a joy. There is a ton of high quality gear that, in its day, sold for a pretty penny. But now are a bit more reasonable. I ended up buying into two systems: A Fuji XT-1 Panorama & A Hasselblad Flexbody. Each of these systems matched my photographic passions in a different way and both are iconic film cameras.
Fuji XT-1 (Same as Hasselblad Xpan)
It’s quite rare that I’m impressed with a camera, but I’m really enjoying the Xpan. In many way it seems like the perfect landscape photographer’s camera. All of it’s lenses are relatively slow, f/4 or f/5.6, and for my way of shooting that’s just fine. I don’t need the size, weight or complexity of fast autofocus lenses.
The Xpan has only 3 lenses available, 35, 45 & 90mm, and so far they all seem quite nice. I’ve also been using them with my Sony A7Rii and they are holding up well to its 42MP sensor.
- Film Size: 24mm x 65mm
- Aspect Ratio: 2.7 to 1
- Equivilant Digital Megapixels Scanned at 4000 dots per inch: 38.7 MP
- Max Print Size @ 300 dots per inch: 12 x 32
The Hasselblad Flexbody is a 120 medium format camera that incoporates many of the movements found in a large format cameras. The process of using this camera will be very slow and deliberate. But the ability to control the focus plane and shift the film plane to control perspective distortion will make this an exacting camera for architecture and landscapes.
- Film Size: 57mm x 57mm
- Aspect Ratio: 1 to 1 (Square)
- Equivilant Digital Megapixels Scanned at 4000 dots per inch: 83 MP
- Max Print Size @ 300 dots per inch: 30 x 30
Film on the other hand is not quite so easy. I knew that I was going to shot black & white and color. And my first choice was the easiest, Velvia 50 Color Slide Film. This was / is the quintessential landscape photographers film. My compliment to the narrow dynamic range of Velvia 50 Slide Film is going to be Kodak Ektar 100. But I’m still working on finding a black and white film that suits me. I’ve tried Fujifilm Acros 100 and I like it pretty well but it’s not quite a perfect match. Next up is Ilford Pan F plus 50.
There’s really not getting around it, the film workflow is complicated. Well at least more complicated than digital. This workflow can be broken down into three distinct tasks
Film Processing - To start I’m sending all my film to the lab, currently Richard Photo Lab or North Coast Photographic Services. But in the future I plan to develop my own film. Starting with Black & White and moving to color if I can swing it.
Scanning - In order to post my film images online I’ll need a digital copy and that requires scanning. For that I have a “loaner” Nikon LS-9000 Medium Format negative scanner that does an excellent job scanning both the 6x6 Hasselblad film as well as the 24x65 Xpan negatives.
For portfolio images that I plan to print digitally I may also send my negatives out for a high resolution drum scan to obtain the highest quality possible.
Printing - My printing will start out using archival digital printing but I also plan to work towards conventional silver and platinum prints.
Well that was a bunch of Mumbo Jumbo camera geekery stuff with precious few photos. But future editions of this project blog will be anything but. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.
Kodak Ektar 100 Color Negative Film