Film is Still Alive: Montana State University Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago I was able to take some time off and take my youngest son to college to start his freshman year at Montana State University in Bozeman. He is going to study film and photography (apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). As we were getting all of his books for his classes at the MSU bookstore we came across the art supply section. Low and behold… the film photography supply shelves! It was so refreshing to see several flavors of black and white film,  in everything from 35mm to 4×5.

Montana State University BW film supplies
The Montana State University bookstore stocks some pretty great BW photography materials for the students. From 35mm, 120 and large format film to a variety of papers and supplies.

There was more than film on those shelves too. Grey cards, film sleeves, and paper. Lots and lots of darkroom paper. MSU has such a nice darkroom facility I just about fell over when I toured it. So all this nice paper will go to use for sure.

With so many high school photography departments abandoning traditional film photography it is so important for the higher educational institutions to carry on with all of the different photographic processes, including digital.

I was just drooling when I got to see the facility and equipment my son will be able to use. If you want to shoot 8×10, super 16mm, Red, or wet plate, no problem. They have it all.

Behind the Shot: An Experiment in Color

It is a little ironic that this post follows one where I talk about how much I think a black and white photograph is more artistic than a color photograph. Like I said before, I like color photographs too, and this post proves it. I live in an area that has a lot of “Open Space” land. Open Space is where a local government acquires land and sets it aside as recreation or wildlife habitat or both. So, lucky for me I have hundreds of shooting locations to pick from, all within 15 miles of my house.

I have been wanting to try an experiment using color film for awhile now. I wanted to see how slow of a shutter speed I could get in a full sun situation. I needed some clouds and water to get the long exposure look I wanted, and I knew of an open space that was five minutes from my house with a cool pond that has a little island in the middle.

An island in this pond hosts four nests of Blue Herons keeping them safe from preditors and photographers.
An island in this pond hosts four nests of Blue Herons keeping them safe from preditors and photographers. Mamiya 645 1000s, 45mm f2.8, Kodak E100vs.

One Sunday a few weeks ago around 3:00 I found myself with a couple of hours to burn. So I took the opportunity to get out to this location and try my experiment of long (ish) exposure in full sun. I gathered up my gear, this time it was my Mamiya 645 1000s and a 45mm wide angle lens. For film stock, I had some Kodak E100vs in the deep freeze just screaming to get out. When I shoot color film I love to shoot transparencies (slides). I mean nothing beats a perfectly exposed chrome.

Transparencies held up to the light drip with color. Kodak E100vs
Transparencies held up to the light drip with color. Kodak E100vs

Now, to slow the shutter speed down, I was starting at ISO 100 with my film. Except the film was expired in 2008, so using an ISO of 50 gets me closer to a true film speed. That helps, but not enough. I knew I wanted to use a polarizer filter, and I had a 3 stop ND filter that would stack together. That adds about 4 stops of exposure. Now it’s getting closer to what I need for an exposure around 1 sec in full sun.  To keep the sky in check I will add a ND grad filter and I had a nifty graduated warming filter to add some drama to the sky. Why not, I don’t shoot color that often.

With my gear packed up and a couple of rolls of film thawed out I headed over to the location. After parking the car and pulling out the gear I had about a 1/4 walk to the pond. I entered through the gate and started off. I was immediately met with a herd of cattle. The whole heard was on my path, standing there starring at me. Like cows do.  So I stopped and tried to waive them off. They didn’t move. Now that I had all of their attention they got curious and started to move in and surround me. They must have thought I had a bail of hay in my pocket. Before I was totally surrounded I headed off across the pasture and gave up on the path.

Curious Cows
Curious cows follow me as I head out to a location in their pasture to photograph.

Once I got to the location it was clear that I would need all the tools I brought to get the shutter speed down. I set up next to the pond but made sure I kept my distance. There are about 4 or 5 blue heron nests on this little island and I didn’t want to spook them. Lucky for me I was able to hop a crude barbed wire fence that keeps the cows out of the water. That kept them out of my camera bag while I was shooting.

The set up with the cows close behind wondering what I was doing.
The set up with the cows close behind wondering what I was doing.

So there I was all set up. My Mamiya on a tripod, loaded with Kodak E100vs rated at ISO 50, Polarizer, ND filter, ND Grad filter, and a graduated warming filter to top it off. I bracketed exposures to make sure I was going to get what I wanted.

In the end the shot that turned out like I had envisioned was shot at 1 second @ f/22. To the naked eye the water had a little wave action due to some slight wind and the clouds were hung in a clear blue sky with lots of sun. The long exposure was able to flatten out the water so it has a mirror like surface and the clouds have just a little movement in the image to add some drama to the sky. One thing to note is that this image is not digitally altered. I always strive to get everything I want in camera. Overall I was pretty happy with how the final image turned out.

My passion is for Black and White photography but sometimes I have to branch out and play around with some color.

Black and White Photography As a Visual Art Form

I love black and white photographs as an art form. I think there are few strong reasons a monochrome photograph can be considered more “artistic” than a color photograph. I’m not saying that a color photograph is not artistic, compared to black and white photographs. There are a lot of amazing color photographs that I would love to hang in my home but there are a few things that black and white photography does easily that color can not.

Abstract
From the time a photographer trips the sutter release (if he/she is shooting BW film or a monochrome digital camera) the image is already an abstraction of the reality the photographer was photographing. Changing a scene or portrait from color to shades of gray makes our mind think differently about the image before us. It is an image of reality, a real thing we are familiar with, but its not real at the same time, because the color is stripped away.

Jack-O-Lanterns waiting to scare the spirits way on all hallows eve.
Jack-O-Lanterns waiting to scare the spirits way on all hallows eve. Mamiya 645 80mm f2.8, Kodak T-Max 100

We don’t see the real world in black and white so subconsciously our mind is telling us its not real, but something representing reality. Much like an impressionistic painting or a loose sculpture that makes our brain fill in the spaces, a black and white photograph makes us imagine what is missing.

Timeless
You may hear others, that are passionate about black and white photography, comment on how black and white photos have a “timeless” quality to them. By removing the color from the image it also removes the visual queue that our minds use to give us a reference in time. Colors used in fashion and home decorating change every year. A good monochrome image will remove all of the distractions that color introduces letting the viewer focus on the subject rather than on all of the other items a color image would present.

Custom Motorcycle in black and white
A motorcyclist races by on a vintage machine. Nikon FG, 50mm 1.4, Kodak Tri-X 400.

In this image of the motorcycle rider passing by at speed you really can’t tell if it was shot last week or 40 years ago. With the rider wearing pretty basic riding gear and no other frame of reference to when it was taken gives it a timeless quality.

It’s Only About The Light
Unlike color photographs, a monochrome photographer can control what the light is doing in the final image. In a color image if you burn down an area too much it just looks like that part if the image is under exposed. In a black and white photograph burning and dodging bring up the high lights and ads shadows where there were none. It really gives the artist tools to add drama to a monochrome image that is really hard to achieve with a color image.

pine tree in the Rockies
A young pine tree gets a start among the larger lodgepole pines of the Rocky Mountains. Yashica-12 TLR, 80mm f3.5, Kodak T-Max 100.

In the image Among Giants, I saw an opportunity to capture a scene that had pretty flat light but I could manipulate the image in the dark room while I printed it, making it appear as if a ray of light was highlighting this little tree among the larger ones in the forest. This allowed me to have a vision for the the final print that takes it beyond a reproduction of the reality in front of the lens.

Behind the Shot – The St. Louis Arch

In the early spring of 2014, my wife and I took our youngest on a trip to the St. Louis area to tour some colleges and in between stops we planned on visiting the St. Louis Arch. It was a beautiful day when we arrived at the park and the three of us crammed ourselves into the funky little elevator for the ride to the top. I hadn’t ever been to the top until this trip. I have driven past a few times on family road trips when I was a kid, but we never made the stop for the arch.

After we came down and did the museum and store we headed out to the park grounds. Thats when I started to get excited about what I was seeing.

St. Louis Arch
St. Louis Arch reflected in water (Pentax ME Super, 24mm f16 @ 1/4 sec. Kodak T-Max 100 film)

This was not a photo trip so I didn’t pack a ton of gear for what ever situation came my way. I packed up my simple travel kit for this trip. The kit is a Pentax ME Super body and a 24mm, 50mm and 135mm prime lenses. I had a few red and yellow filters, cable release and a little table top tripod. This, along with 5 rolls of T-Max 100 film,  all fits in a nice little single sling pack.

The reflection of the arch was coming into view more and more as I walked along the edge of the reflecting pool.  I made my way around the pool, fending off a goose protecting its partner sitting on their nest, until I came to the spot where I took the photo above.  I chose the 24mm wide angle so I could get the whole scene in the frame. Shooting at ISO 100 with a red filter late in the afternoon meant I needed to use a tripod, but the only tripod I had was the little table top one that fit in my little pack. So, thats what I used. Getting down on my knees I set the camera up on the little tripod, attached my cable release and metered for the shadows.

My in-camera meter told me that at f16 it would be a 1/4 of a second exposure. I knew the red filter would really make the blue sky darken because the sun was to my back and I would get some nice contrast with the white clouds building on the horizon. And the reflection lined up perfectly at the low angle that my camera was sitting. So, with my camera on the little tripod at the edge of the reflecting pool, I bracketed three shots at 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 of a second at f16.

After I took those three shots I finished our stroll around the park and finished off the roll of T-Max. I knew I had some good frames and couldn’t wait to get home and develop the film. I have several really nice abstracts of the arch but this image had the most drama when I printed it.