Six years ago I made one of my favorite photos in the Big Woods at Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area. The colors and draping of the branches caught my eye. My recollection is that it was a wettish day when I made this photo back in October of 2014.
I've been back to Wood-Rill more times than I can count since that day in early October 2014. I've often tried to find these trees to make a new image, but I'll be darned if I could find them. I traipsed all over the edge of that tamarack bog trying to find them, but I always struck out. That is until this year. Priscilla and I went out to Wood-Rill for a late afternoon hike recently and I had my Olympus OM-2n with me loaded with Ilford HP5+ black & white film, rated at an ISO of 400. As I was rooting around at the edge of the bog, all of a sudden these trees presented themselves right in front of me. I couldn't believe it. Wouldn't you know the one time when I wasn't looking for them at all, there they'd be, right in front of me.
Because I was shooting with a 50mm lens this time rather than the 28mm lens I was using back in 2014, the perspective in these two photos is different, but they are unmistakably the same trees, with pretty much the same composition. I actually think I prefer the perspective in the black & white shot over the color shot. Losing the sky at the top tightens things up a bit in my estimation. Neither of these photos has been cropped. They are as shot. One thing I love about the black & white version is how the tamarack trees in the background seem to light up.
I think now that I've made it back to the same spot a second time, I'll be able to find it again. There are a few scenes out at Wood-Rill that I like making photographs of at different times of the year. I'll be adding these trees to my revisit list.
I suspect some people think I'm a bit crazy, but one of my favorite times to head out into the woods with my camera is when the weather is at its worst. Today we've had rain showers and light thunderstorms rolling through our area all morning, so I decided to head out to Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) for a photowalk.
When you're out in the woods during a rainstorm, the colors take on this deeply saturated look, but naturally, not through some post-processing gimmick. This is just how the colors look, but most people don't get to experience this because they're not crazy enough to head out into the woods during a storm. The other thing that happens is that where you have openings in the forest canopy, you get this incredibly soft, luscious light pouring in to light up the forest floor.
True, you have to be willing to put your gear through a bit of a test, but the results are worth it. I'm happy to be out in the woods on any old day, but if it's a sunny day, I won't make photographs. The light has to be just right, and today it was.
Since coming back to film photography a year and a half ago, my color film of choice has been Kodak Portra 400. Recently I decided to test out a few other Kodak color film stocks to see what I've been missing. The films I tried out alongside Portra 400 are Portra 160, Ektar 100, and ProImage 100. Portra and Ektar are the premium priced films in this bunch. Kodak ProImage 100 is substantially less expensive, so I was curious to see how it would fair against the others.
I love Portra 400's understated saturation and warm tones. It just sees the world the way I do. I expected a similar look and feel with Portra 160, and that's what I got. Ektar is supposedly the closest you can get to Kodachrome colors these days. It certainly had punchier reds. I actually preferred the warmer color palette of ProImage 100 to Ektar. I certainly like the fact that it's way less expensive too.
I shot these four rolls during July, using my Nikon F3HP and Nikon FE2, both fitted with 50mm prime lenses. All four rolls were processed at West Photo in Minneapolis. The images in the gallery above were scanned on my Plustek OpticFilm 8200i using SilverFast software, with the resolution set to 3600 dpi. I selected the Negafix option in SilverFast. In almost all cases, I did not turn on color cast correction. I found that all four film stocks were easy to scan. None of them suffered from cupping, which made it easy to get the film to lay flat in the holder.
All post processing was done in Lightroom Classic. I did no color grading. I applied a medium contrast curve to all images. I also set the white and black points and added a wee bit of clarity and vibrance (6 for both). On the window images I added a bit of dehaze to reduce glare. Sharpening was left at the Lightroom default of 40.
I don't really worry about grain, so I haven't evaluated these images for that. What I do care a lot about is the color palette. I tend to prefer a warmer color palette. That is the key reason I haven't tested any Fuji films, as I've found through the years that the Fuji color palette is much too cool for my taste. I also care about saturation and contrast. I prefer less aggressive rendering on both those factors.
So after all this experimentation, you might ask if I've changed my mind about my favorite color film. The short answer would be no, I still prefer Portra 400, but I could see myself shooting more Portra 160 during the long summer days. And if I'm trying to stretch my film budget, I wouldn't hesitate to shoot Kodak ProImage 100. As far as Ektar is concerned, I find the color palette and contrast are just too punchy for my style. But if that's your thing, Ektar delivers it in spades.
In film photography circles, there's this implicit assumption that when you "grow up" as a photographer you'll move up to the larger film sizes--medium format (i.e. 120 film) and large format. By that benchmark, I guess I've never grown up. There are times I've been tempted to try medium format, and in fact last year I did for a short while. I picked up a 1950s vintage Mamiya 6 Automat folder camera. While I liked the look of the photographs from that camera, I couldn't get comfortable with the viewfinder, so I sold it on eBay. Actually, my very first camera back in 1969 was a medium format folder, the Kodak Duo 620. I didn't shoot it for long before moving to 35mm on an Argus rangefinder. Once I started shooting 35mm SLRs back in the 70s, I was hooked.
35mm film cameras allow you to get in to capture photos in tight places quickly. That's why they became standard equipment for photojournalists, conflict photographers, and street photographers. If you're into the reportage style of photography made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson, then 35mm is for you.
Another advantage of 35mm is the cost of the film. I just checked on B&H, and a 36-exposure roll of Ilford HP5+ black & white film costs the exact same amount as a roll of the same film in 120 format, which will yield 12 exposures on average. True, if you're after higher resolution or that medium-format/large-format look, then you'll have to move up to those larger film formats. For me, there's a low-fi look to 35mm film that I just simply love.
Finally, there is the availability and cost of the used 35mm SLRs. These cameras are the best value going on the used film camera market. True, you can find less expensive medium format cameras, but the good ones still go for more than 35mm SLRs, and for the most part, they are significantly bigger than 35mm SLRs. And don't get me started on 35mm film rangefinders. Those prices have gone crazy. For me, it's 35mm film SLRs all the way. And if you can't tell from the photo above, I have a soft spot in my heart for Nikon cameras.
I had to go. I didn't know what I would do or think when I got to the site where George Floyd was murdered, but I knew I had to go. When I arrived outside Cup Foods I stood for the longest time taking in the scene, breathing deep and slow, recognizing that this was the place where George Floyd's breath was taken from him. This was sacred ground. The tears welled up in my eyes, as they are now. I then did something that seemed to come out of nowhere and yet seemed the most natural and right thing to do...I asked George Floyd for his forgiveness. I asked him to forgive me for all the wrongs committed against people of color by systemic racism. I asked for forgiveness and I cried.
Finally, I got down on a knee and made one photo. The significance of taking a knee was not lost on me. I debated whether or not to do it, but I knew that the perspective I was seeking in the photograph required me to take a knee. The image of George Floyd needed to be above me, not at my eye level. I needed to be at street level when making this photograph. He needed to be looking down on me. I needed his forgiveness. I still need his forgiveness.
One of the activities that fills my time while we live under this "Stay at Home" order is developing film that I've shot on my walks around the neighborhood. I've been shooting black & white film, because I only have chemistry for that at present. I do have some color chemistry coming though, so I'm going to start shooting some color as well.
There is something satisfying about getting my process down for developing film. These days when so much seems out of our control, it's comforting to perform a process that I do have some control over. I've gotten to the point where I'm getting consistently good results. I've settled on one developer–Kodak HC-110. I love the tones and contrast I get with this developer. The other thing I appreciate about HC-110 is its long shelf life.
I'm using a hybrid analog/digital workflow, as are the vast majority of photographers shooting film these days. Up through developing the film, the process is analog. After that it becomes a digital process. I scan the negatives and import the scanned files into Lightroom for final image adjustments. I don't do a lot of editing in Lightroom, mainly tweaks to contrast and the tone curve. I also clean up the odd dust spot. I'd love to have a darkroom for printing, but that's something for another day.
Living under a stay at home order, my photography is limited to what I see on my nearly daily walks and what catches my eye around the house. I think this has been a good creative exercise...forcing me to find interesting images in the mundane. I guess when your world gets smaller, you notice more things in that world, such as an outlet box that looks like an electrical inspectors nightmare, or groceries delivered to the porch, or an arrangement in a planter, among other things.
Soon I'll write about another pursuit that's been filling my days, making sourdough bread. I need to make some good photos of that process and then I'll share them here.
I'm sure it won't surprise you that I have a few opinions about what cameras are best to start out with when getting into film photography. Some of the cameras that I recommend are on other's lists, but other commonly mentioned cameras are not on my list. Read on and you'll get my take on best cameras for getting started in film.
First, I'm going to step out on a limb and state that the best camera type for starting out in film is a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex). Here are my reasons for making that claim.
SLR Shooting Experience
With an SLR, when you look through the viewfinder you see what the camera sees. The image coming through the lens is reflected up to the viewfinder using a mirror and prism. You are seeing the image as it will be captured on film, not a rough approximation of it. An SLR viewfinder typically shows you 93% - 100% of the total image. I am a stickler for doing edge patrol on my frames, so an accurate representation in the viewfinder is extremely important to me.
The best values going on the used film camera market are 35mm SLRs. Even though film camera prices have increased with the resurgence of film photography, it's still easy to find good condition 35mm SLRs for under $250. Conversely, the prices on point & shoot and rangefinder 35mm cameras have increased to crazy levels.
35mm SLRs are among the most portable cameras available. Some of the more modern 35mm SLRs are beautifully compact, such as the Olympus OM-2n. The Nikon FE2 is another great example. Both these cameras are extremely well built, though, so don't confuse compact with cheaply constructed.
In their day, 35mm SLRs were super popular, and for the most part, they were extremely well built, so a good number of them are still working and available today. For example, the Nikkormat FT2, which was a brand of Nikon, is available for under $100 in good condition. If you're not completely comfortable with your knowledge in making a purchase, I'd turn KEH, a reputable online retailer of used cameras. If their rating says a camera is in excellent condition, you can count on it. You can also look on eBay, but you have to be more careful there. I've actually found prices to be better from KEH than eBay. Another good buying option is your local camera store. Most have an inventory of used film cameras. I bought my Nikon F3 from my local camera store, National Camera Exchange.
My camera recommendations are based on actual shooting experience. If I haven't shot a camera, I won't recommend it. I'm targeting my recommendations at the inexperienced film shooter. Here are my criteria for recommending cameras from among those I've shot.
My Camera Recommendations
I fully admit that my list is not exhaustive, and yes, there certainly is a Nikon tilt to my recommendations, since that is the brand I have the most experience with. There are a lot of fine brands I haven't shot, including Minolta and many other Canon and Pentax film cameras. I'd rather stick with my own personal experience when making a recommendation.
If you were to ask me to recommend one camera from all the 35mm SLRs I've shot, I'd go with the Nikon FE2, with the Olympus OM-2n a close runner up. If you're looking for the most affordable option I'd go for the Nikkormat FT2. Those can typically be had for less than $100.
A camera isn't any use without a lens. I recommend for starters you get a 50mm fixed focal length lens from the camera manufacturer. Generally, these are going to be f/2 or faster lenses. The 50mm lens was the standard kit lens in the day, so there are a ton of them available at reasonable prices. Once you've got the standard lens covered, then you can start expanding your collection. But for starters, it's hard to go wrong with a good old 50mm prime lens. If you're buying a Nikon film SLR, you need to be sure that the lens you're considering is compatible with the camera body.
If you have any questions or want feedback on a potential camera purchase, please submit a comment. I'll do my best to get back to you.
In these days of social distancing and now a stay at home order in Minnesota, daily walks have been my little sanity pill. I'm thankful that the snow has melted now and the trails are free of ice. Priscilla and I have been getting out for a two-mile walk pretty much every day. I'm also taking longer walks on my own, with a camera in hand. When out on our walks we can't help but notice the sounds of the birds. We can hear them so much better now that the traffic noise is reduced. The woodpecker drumming in the neighborhood sounds like an entire percussion section.
I'm shooting black and white film to document our lives during this pandemic. I'd like to move to color film as things green up, but the color development chemistry is sold out everywhere I've looked. At least with black and white I can continue to develop at home. Somehow black and white seems to fit the times anyway. I've got enough black and white chemistry to last me several months, plus I just took delivery of ten rolls of black and white film. That ought to last me a while.
I'm finding this time of forced isolation is a good opportunity to check out the functioning of my camera gear. I have amassed a bit of a collection of film SLRs (12 at this counting). A few of them are in need of a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust). I just got my Olympus OM-2n back from a CLA. A few other cameras are in need as well, but that'll have to wait until after the dust settles on COVID-19.
One project I just finished up is a Blurb photo book of our Paris 2019 trip. I included favorite film photos from that trip. Looking at those photos brings back such wonderful memories of our time there. Priscilla and I have decided that we're going back to Paris in the spring of 2021.
In this frightening time of the global coronavirus pandemic, I find photography is a calm place for me to retreat to. I can still get out for walks and make photographs, and I can still develop and scan my film in our home. As our boundaries tighten in around us, photography is still something I can do. I won't be doing any street photography, but I can still photograph around our home and neighborhood.
Somehow, black and white photography seems appropriate for this time. I've been experimenting with different films. Most recently I've been shooting with Ilford FP4+. I'd never shot with this film before. It quickly made its way onto my favorites list. I also tried some Bergger Pancro 400. Contrary to the FP4+, the Bergger film did not impress me and will not be a film I return to again.
I have a feeling an awful lot of my photos in the coming weeks will show us hunkering down, trying to stay healthy and safe. When we're on the other side of this awful contagion I'll have to put together a portfolio of the photographs I made during this time. It'll be interesting to see how they hold up as a body of work.
It’s hard to believe that this is our last full day in Paris, day 57 of 58. I suppose I shouldn’t really count tomorrow, since we’ll only be in Paris until our ten-something takeoff time, but I chose to count it way back when, so 58 days it will stay! Speaking of “way back when,” last night I got a bit nostalgic thinking about when it was that we first hatched this idea. I checked in the VRBO app and found that we had reserved this flat on March 24, 2018, exactly one year to the day prior to when we arrived in Paris to begin our adventure. On March 24, 2018, Priscilla was in the middle of her first cycle of chemotherapy, the AC cycle, which was tough going. By March 24th she had gone through two of the AC chemo infusions, which were basically like going through a bad bout of the flu each time. I remember sitting in the living room with a fire burning in the fireplace, talking about needing something to look forward to on the other side of cancer treatment. That was when we came up with the idea to spend two months in Paris in 2019. I suppose that explains the melancholy I felt last night, knowing that this dream that was conceived of during a deeply difficult time in our lives was coming to a close.
The biggest surprise for both of us has been the number of connections we’ve made here in Paris. We never expected that in just two short months. In fact, I remember thinking before we left on our trip how it would be different spending two months in a place where you don’t know a soul. I needn’t have worried. Our last week in Paris has been a series of goodbyes mixed in with some hellos to new friends. Friday we had lunch at Mokonuts and said our goodbyes to Moko. Saturday we said a long goodbye to our friends Claudia, Charles, Eileen, and Anaïs at Miss Lunch. We got there at one and didn’t head out until around four o’clock. It feels so strange to be saying goodbye to these friends. We have had many wonderful times with them. This afternoon we will be saying our goodbyes to Rasmus and Elissa, the owners of the store right below us. We’ve had to say our goodbyes to Ellen and Jean-Pierre via email, as they are back home in Brittany.
Thursday and Friday night we walked down to the Seine to say goodbye to this beautiful river, which we will surely miss. Friday night we joined a party of three at their table for drinks and live jazz. Fabrice and Annie and their friend Inno welcomed us to their table for what became a lively night filled with much conversation and laughter. It was one of those magical nights. We stayed until 11 pm. Saturday night the packing began in earnest. You know we’re at the end of a trip when I pack my camera gear. The flat hardly looks lived in now that all our stuff is put away.
Besides the people, there are other things we will miss about Paris, like the fabulous public Metro system and the ability to walk a block and find fabulous cheeses, meats, vegetables, fruits, baguettes, pain chocolat, and wines. The Marais has been the perfect home base for us in Paris. We are within a half-mile walk to three different Metro stations that give us access to a broad swath of the city in thirty minutes or less. Plus, we are walking distance from world-class museums such as the Picasso Museum and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Institute. I will definitely miss the fabulous street photography opportunities and the little tucked away spaces that are photographically rich. I’m sure Priscilla will miss the shopping opportunities, although with the amount of things she’s having to pack right now, perhaps not.
Regardless of how much we will miss Paris and the friends we have made here, we are more than ready to come home. As I’ve said many times, we are died-in-the-wool Minnesotans. That is home and always will be. This much looked forward to trip has been everything we could have hoped for and more. We have absolutely no regrets coming home from Paris. There is nothing we would have done differently. That our family and friends could join us during this adventure made it even better. For those of you who traveled with us virtually through this blog, we hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.
Soon we will be stateside and I’ll be able to put my “grocery-store French” to pasture until the next time. Hmmm, did I just write “next time.”