Introducing ‘BAC’

BACOver a year ago I switched from a Nikon DSLR to the Fuji mirrorless system. One of the reasons besides the form factor was the decrease in weight that this fifty something body would have to carry around on assignment. So with that in mind what do I go and do, I buy one of the heaviest beasts of a film camera on the planet. Yep the Mamiya RB67! Hokey smokes it’s huge but so is the size of that negative!

I have drooled over these for sometime and my last wanderings on eBay showed a lot less of them showing up on the used market than even a year ago. A bunch of them are coming from Japan but not so many from the U.S.. My favorite used camera gear site KEH was out of stock of good ones and actually running low on a lot of used film gear. I am not sure what the reason is for this, maybe the resurgance in film usage but I don’t know. In any event I did find one on eBay from an actual photographer. It didn’t look as beat up as a lot of these get so I took the chance. Boy was I lucky! The beast is a beauty and everything works as it is supposed too. It took several visits to eBay to complete the kit but now I have three working lenses and four film backs. (Don’t get me started on how fun it is to replace the seals on those film backs.)

In my infinite wisdom I bought this studio camera to take out on hikes for landscape photography. Ouch! The camera and lens weighs in at six pounds and if you start adding different prisms and such the weight keeps climbing. They say due to the size of the camera it’s impossible to shoot handheld. Well it’s not impossible but you will need to keep those shutter speeds towards the higher side and using the optional hand grip helps greatly. For the most part though mine sits on a tripod.

If you are wondering, yes I do get quite the workout carrying this and a backpack full of it’s gear around. Yes I do feel it in my muscles the next day. So why do I do it? As stated earlier, that size of a negative. It’s the next best thing to 4×5. The details are amazing and it is just what I was looking for in image quality for my film fine art photographs.

The camera itself is kind of an odd combination of SLR and large format camera. You have removable lenses but the shutters are in the lenses instead of the camera, much like a large format camera. Well except the lenses are huge! You also need to remove a dark slide i/e like a large format camera before taking a picture. You have multiple levers, buttons and settings you have to set up before you ever make the camera go click. Oh and it’s not a click but a wonderful combination of shutter and mirror movement noise that is as sexy as hell! I love it!

I have affectionately named her ‘BAC.’ which stands for “Big Ass Camera.” So welcome to my summer workout program as I team up with my partner BAC to make sore muscles and beautiful photos.

Happy wanderings!

BAC-2BAC-3BAC-6BAC-4BAC-5BAC-7BAC-8BAC-9BAC-10BAC-11BAC-12

 

The craft of photography with the Crown Graphic

grv01-Recoveredpr01pr02 grove201 grove01 chicago river062 chicago river2063 chicago river4065

crown graphicIf you thought that I gave up film after getting the Fuji XT1 I most certainly have not. It’s just that when you completely switch camera systems you need to run the new system through it’s paces so that you can discover the hidden quirks and get comfortable with the camera. Recently though my film cameras were calling my name. It was time to take a digital break and go burn some film.

Instead of shooting roll film I decided to shoot some 4×5 film. I wanted to immerse myself for a morning of full on photography. So I dug out my trusty Graflex Crown Graphic. I got this camera a couple of years ago and since then have put together a nice kit. I have three lenses for it, a bunch of film holders and some filters for black and white work. For those of you who don’t know what a Crown Graphic is, if you watch any of the old black and white movies where there is a cigar chomping newspaper reporter, holding a big camera with a bellows and huge bulb flash, it’s probably a Crown Graphic or one of it’s relatives.

The Crown was made for newspaper photographers. It was a sturdy box of a camera that when opened revealed a bellows/lens system much like a field camera. It shot 4×5 film (although there were smaller sheet film versions) that loaded into film holders and then into the back of the camera. It had a built in rangefinder system but you could also use the ground glass on the back for critical focusing. Just like a field camera you could change lenses if you had extras already mounted on lens boards. It had limited front movements. A good photographer knew their settings and exposures and could bang out photos using just the rangefinder system and bulb flash. I don’t work that way.

I use my Crown Graphic more like a field camera. I have my handheld light meter and take multiple readings with it. I look through the back of the ground glass on the camera and carefully compose my image. Speaking of looking through the ground glass, for those of you who have never done this, the image you see is upside down and backwards. It takes a bit of getting used to. For me it is one of my thinking cameras. There is nothing quick about using this camera and most of my time is spent on setting it up and composing the image before even taking one picture. There have been many times where I’ve got it ready to go and I decide what I am seeing isn’t worth using a sheet of film on and I close it up and move on to my next possible scene. It’s methodical, it’s slow and it’s very, very wonderful.

When I use this camera I feel that I am fully practicing the craft of photography. I only shoot black and white film with this camera so the craft continues when I get home and develop the film. It is a thrill to hold up a developed negative and see that you got a good image. The second thrill comes when I scan the film and really see if what I had in my mind at the time of exposure actually came through.

If you want to try a U.S. made camera that has some cool history behind it and be able to get some top notch photos from it, do yourself a favor and at least shoot one these once. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t and I must say I have gotten some of my favorite photos from it.

Happy wanderings.

Chasing the light with Ektar 100

Photography by it’s very definition is painting with light. As a photographer it seems that we do a lot more chasing of that light than painting with it. Landscape photographers are always chasing the sunrise and sunsets. I’ve done my fare share of that. For me great light can happen anytime and anyplace. The light can me made by nature or man made. I have created the wonderful light myself when it didn’t already exist in the situation being photographed.

They say the golden hours are the best time for photos and to some extent those time tables can certainly put the odds in your favor for getting beautiful light. In this case it was morning but it was already getting past what is considered the golden hour. On this day I was chasing the fog as much as I was the light. I needed the sun to be a little higher in the sky for the dramatic look I was hoping to capture.

With my camera backpack in hand I headed off to a nearby forest where I knew the sun would break through the fog with a cool effect. On the way I passed this cemetery and instantly went to plan B, which required a U-turn on my part a race back to the cemetery. As a photographer if nothing else you need to be flexible.

I had never explored this cemetery so I had to scout it out quickly before I lost my light. I knew this event wouldn’t last long. I drove to the back end of the cemetery and there the light was just streaming through the trees like you see in these photos. It was amazing! I loaded my camera with Kodak Ektar 100 in the hopes for more saturated colors but I was worried if it would have enough latitude to capture everything. I ended up really liking the look. I shot off one roll in less than 30 minutes and the light was gone along with the fog.

While I was taking these photos a woman walking her dog came up to me and asked “what are you taking photos of?” Probably curious as to why anyone would want to shoot in a cemetery. With what must have been an incredulous look on my face I stammered “well the gorgeous light of course!” She looked in the direction I was pointing and her eyes widened and she said ” oh my that is amazing!”

This morning I chased the light and received it by the bucket full. I was looking for things that other people would walk by and not even notice. Beautiful things.

Happy wandering.

All photos were shot on a Mamiya M645 and the film was developed and scanned by Indie Film Lab.

The nectar of Ektar

I cheated on my family vacation. Yes I confess I tried a different film other than my beloved Portra films. If that wasn’t bad enough I cheated within the same family, the Kodak family that is. The allure of the vibrant colors that one was supposed to get from Ektar made me stray from my more plain and quiet film Portra. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Portra and always will but it was time to try something new.

All kidding aside I do love the portra films. I almost always get the results I want shooting that film. In this digital world of over saturated color, I have found the Portra films to be more realistic in what I see color wise. If I want a bit more color out them I just bump the saturation a bit on the post processing side, but not by much. The exposure latitude of these films are amazing. I tend to over expose them a bit and usually meter for the shadow  or shaded areas. For Portra 160 I rate it at 120 and for Portra 400 I rate it at 320.  Some photographers take it farther than that but I am not looking for pastel colors I am just looking to open up the shadows a bit. Portra is known for just that, portrait photography, but I have been using it for landscapes as well and love the results. It makes my photos feel like the old Master’s paintings of the american landscape.

Enter Kodak Ektar 100. I only shot one roll on vacation and the rest of the time stayed with my tried and true Portra. I rated the 100 speed film at 80 and then metered the same way I meter for Portra.  Above you see some of the results. All and all I really like the film. It certainly does have a different feel to it. It reminds me more of slide film and has a bit less exposure latitude than the Portra films. With that said though, I metered incorrectly for the deep woods shots and over exposed them quite a bit. I was able to pull them back in with my post processing and still get a nice photo. Impressive. What I was most amazed with was the sharpness in detail. Wow! Big prints would not be a problem with this film at all. It gives digital a serious run for it’s money with the amount of detail recorded.

I’ve read people having trouble scanning the film and getting good colors from it. All of my film goes to Indie Film Lab and they did an outstanding job of the processing and scanning. One thing I did notice, which was no fault of the lab, was that the blues have a heavy cyan look to them. Your really see it in your skies. It looks a bit fake. More internet research revealed that a lot of photographers feel the film needs to be used with warming filters to help get the correct color. That information was too late for this roll so I added a 81a filter tone to them in photoshop. Sure enough it helped pull the cyan back into reality. My 81a filter is now packed with my other filters in my camera backpack.

So will I cheat on my Portra film again? Let’s just say the nectar of Ektar will become very attractive around the fall season.  Happy wanderings!

Oh my Mamiya!

“Say hello to my little friend!” My Mamiya m645 1000s. I’ve been shooting with a pair of these for about a year now. They are a wonderful little metal cube of a camera. No plastic here, that appears in the later/newer versions. Because of the lack of plastic they feel very substantial in your hands. They are rather handsome machines with the black leatherette and chrome trim, maybe not Hasselblad handsome but no troll either. Mamiya produced a wonderful line up of manual lenses for this camera that can really deliver beautiful images on modern films.

Why did I choose these particular cameras instead of say… a Hasselblad or Pentax or Bronica system? To be honest cost was a huge factor. These cameras can be found for cheap prices and yet they are professional equipment, all be it from the past. I would love to try a Hassie or a Pentax 67 but that is not in the realm of my budget. With that said I have never felt shortchanged with my Mamiya system.

This camera system suits how I work photographically. It’s portable and that is a big priority for me because I tend to hike with my system in a backpack. I can fit two bodies, my three lenses (55mm, 85mm and 150mm) into a small Lowepro pack along with filters and film and off I go.

Even more important than the portability is the quality of image that I can obtain from these machines. They are medium format film cameras that use the 645 image size. This is basically a cropped 6×6 format and allows for fifteen images on a roll of film. There is still plenty of resolution to be had in the images and in my opinion this is what 35mm should have been. In fact I shoot very little 35mm film because of these cameras. The transition in tones and the shallow depth of field that can be obtained is glorious.

Some people insist that the 6×7 format is the only medium format to go with. Well for me I can  get close enough with my Rolleicords if I feel a need for that size. Plus the cameras and lenses become a lot bigger and heavier once you make the move to 6×7 and as stated earlier, portability is important to me. No my cameras don’t have removable backs, they have film inserts, so no mid roll changes for me if I want to switch from color film to black and white film. My solution, two cameras. Like I said earlier, they are cheap. One of my cameras always has black and white film in it and one has color film in it. Problem solved.

Oh by the way, these are considered old cameras (from the seventies…ouch) and might need a CLA. That service might very well cost you more than the camera body did  but once done the camera should operate for a very long time. One more thing, for those of you who might get an odd shaped band of overexposure in some of your photos, this is not a light leak. It’s your shutter hanging up and it can be fixed. Ask me how I know! It will only occur at the higher shutter speeds. This is the only hiccup I have had with these machines. They do use a battery to operate the electronic shutter and my batteries seem to last a long time. The PDS viewfinder I have meters very accurately. I also have the waist level finder which of course requires a hand held meter for exposures.

With my Mamiyas I have been happily going from portraits to landscapes and anywhere in between and have been thrilled with the results. Oh did I mention I have a third one on the way and did I tell you they were cheap?

Happy wanderings!

The feel of summer

Black and white film has a wonderful way of taking out the extraneous and leaving the meat of a photo. Yes there is a lot of wonderful color to photograph in summer landscapes and I have been capturing that on color film and digital media but when you just want the feeling of something, the emotion of something, nothing beats black and white film.

Most of these photographs were taken during the late afternoon hours with an intense light coming from the sun. Yes there are lens flares in some of the photos and to tell you the truth, that doesn’t bother me. In fact I think it helps translate to the viewer that the day was so bright that you needed your sunglasses. I think you almost squint looking at the photos. You can feel the mugginess of the summer afternoon. You can smell the still water of the lake before you. You can almost hear the song of the Red Winged Blackbird in the background as you look at the photos.

That is the beauty of black and white film.

For the technical minded, all of the photographs were shot on Ilford FP4 film using Mamiya 645 1000s cameras. Various combinations of neutral density and orange filters were applied as needed. All film was self developed using Arista Premium developer and then scanned on an Epson 700 scanner.

Happy wanderings.

Smile and say Rollei!

The Rolleicord or probably any twin lens reflex camera, is the perfect portrait camera. Now before you get your feathers all in a bunch and start throwing out better options, let me explain what I mean. I am not talking about the camera’s technical abilities, I am coming at this from a purely relational point of view.

More often then not, when I am wearing my Rolleicord around my neck, I will receive admiring glances when people walk by. Trust me, those glances aren’t for me but for the camera. They walk, they glance and if they take the time for a second glance curiosity will take over and questions will soon follow about the camera. Most of the time they want to know what it is because it looks so cool. Other times it will be an old timer who starts reminiscing about when he owned one or more often than not someone’s dad used to have one when they were kids.

It’s not a menacing looking camera like so many of today’s professional DSLRs with a big 70-200mm lens hanging off one end and a flash and a grip hanging off other areas of the beast. No, it’s a rather handsome camera with a friendly face attached to it, a kind of vertical eyed robot face that you might see in a Disney movie. People want to engage with it instead of run from it. It’s disarming nature is one of it’s secret portrait potions. It allows me, the photographer, to start a friendly conversation with a stranger.

These conversations have allowed me access to a stranger’s past. I listened to a WWII veteran’s tale about his time as a prisoner of war and how he bought one of these cameras when he gained his freedom. I met a lovely older couple out for a walk so the husband could exercise his heart. He too used to own one of these beauties. I’ve had people just want to know more about the strange vertical eyed box that is out of place in this digital age. The conversations have been wonderful but then there is the photos. The portraits that I have been allowed to take because I took the time to answer some questions or to listen to someone’s story.

That is why these are the perfect portrait cameras.

Happy wanderings!

Why film?

A little background about myself. Many years ago I graduated with a BFA from a private art school called Kendall School of Design. My major was illustration. Yes I drew and painted pictures. I didn’t use computers, nobody did back then, I used pencils, paper, paint and canvas. These were things that you could touch, feel and smell. It was a sensory connection that helped you translate the communication of your idea into the final image. When you were finished there was a relationship between yourself and the piece of art that you had just created.

Over the years life became complicated and busy and I didn’t have the hours available to allocate towards creating images. I however still had the desire. I took up the camera as my image making tool. I started with film, went headlong into digital and now am back to film for at least my personal work.

Why film? Two main reasons really. First reason came while visiting my father one Easter. He pulled out a nondescript box that had an assortment of old photos in it. An unorganized treasure of my family’s history. It made me wonder what will my children have? Hard drives fail, memory cards quit, cell phone pictures disappear when you upgrade your phone and someday Facebook won’t even be around. There certainly won’t be a box of old photos hiding in a closet. So I vowed to shoot some film and make some prints. Even if I don’t print everything that I shoot, there will still be the negatives that will last longer than myself. My children will have something to look back on and remember their family history and even me.

The second reason I went back to film was for that sensory connection. I needed to have that tactile feeling back into my art again. I needed the craft put back into the images that I was making. Most of my cameras that I use for my film work don’t even take batteries, it’s all springs and gears. I love the way that they feel in my hands. I love that there isn’t any auto settings to save you. I love that you have to figure everything out manually. I enjoy the tactile feeling of loading 120 film into my Rolleicord or loading 4 x 5 film holders in the dark. I enjoy the process of it all.

I choose what film I use like I would choose what type of paint to put on my palette. Each has it’s own look and personality much like the uniqueness of watercolors, oil paintings or even pencil sketches. Do I want to shoot black and white for the mood or Portra film for the more neutral color spectrum? Will the photographs be for a portrait or a landscape? Whatever film I choose it will be part of the relationship between myself and my final image.

Hybrid photographer. I am what is considered a hybrid photographer. I shoot images on film and then the negatives are processed and scanned into digital files. I don’t have a darkroom but I do develop my own black and white film with the aid of a changing tent and daylight developing tanks. The color film gets sent out to Indie Film Lab for processing and scanning and they are terrific.

Developing my own black and white film has put another element of the craft back into my photography. Another part of the tactile process that I really enjoy. Since I don’t have a darkroom I scan and then print my photographs digitally. Like darkroom printers, I try to achieve the best print possible. I choose the papers not only for how they will make my photograph look but also how they feel. Holding the final print in my hand is the culmination of the relationship between this photograph, my craft and myself.

Happy wanderings!

Mystery roll

It has felt more like fall than spring lately but that isn’t why I am posting fall color photos. These are my surprise photos from a roll of film that didn’t get developed for quite a few months. It’s kind of like that roll you used to leave in the camera for a year or more and couldn’t remember what was on it once you got it developed. This roll wasn’t quite that bad. I had hung on to it because I hate sending only one roll of film to the lab to be developed so I wait until I have at least a couple of rolls. I knew what was basically on the roll of film but there were those pleasant surprises in the frames that I had forgotten I had taken. Those surprise frames from that mystery roll during a whole different season.

See the magic, shoot some film.

Rolleicord as a landscape camera

Landscape photographers love their wide angle lenses and rightly so. When used correctly the wide angle lens can provide the extra expanse needed for landscapes. I indicated in an earlier post that one of the limitations of the Rolleicord is it only has the one size lens which is a 75mm. With medium format film this lens would be more like a normal size lens on a 35mm camera, maybe a hair wider. Some landscape photographers would find this way too restricting. So does that make the Rollei a poor landscape camera? Absolutely not!

When shooting my Rolleicord, instead of looking for expansive landscape shots, I look for landscape chunks. What I mean by this is I look for pieces of the landscape that I find visually and graphically interesting. The waist level viewfinder is very helpful with this. I will walk around an area, looking through the viewfinder, without even taking a shot. During this time I am visualizing through the viewfinder. I’m looking for something visually interesting. Since I can’t shoot expansive shots I will instead look for different points of view by crouching down to ground level or anywhere in between. The waist level finder works brilliantly for this.

Once I’ve found something that I like, I will further compose the image to make it graphically interesting as a square image. Then it’s a simple matter of taking your light meter readings and making your photograph. Be creative and think beyond the restraints of your camera. In reality, the only restraint is your imagination.

Happy wanderings!