Rolleicord in the rain

DSCF8699The end of 2016 was not good for our household, between deaths in the family and other issues going on it was getting quite overwhelming. 2017 wasn’t starting out any better so it was time to get off this runaway train and take a good friend out for a walk. My trusted friend is my Rolleicord VB. I also have a VA that steps in as needed.

For me there is something very peaceful and stress relieving walking around with this little box of a camera. It’s a very unassuming camera that people don’t see as a threat like a big DSLR, in fact if anything, it is the most asked about camera that I use. It’s uniqueness in todays digital world intrigues the passerby. It’s quiet, just a slight click from the shutter is all you hear and it’s oh so light to carry. I have the leather case for it which also carries a couple of pouches for filters. This camera and a couple roles of film is all you need to take a breather from a much too fast paced life.

Happy wanderings!

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The craft of photography with the Crown Graphic

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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.

Digital vs. Film

Ha gottcha! If you were thinking this was going to be another debate over which is better, film or digital, it’s not. The title should really read “Digital & Film” but like any good fisherman you pick the lure that will provide the most hook-ups.

Fishing analogies aside and in keeping with the name of this blog, this post has both film and digital photos being represented in it. I’m finding that in the world of portraiture both formats can actually live quite well together. I’m not talking about making one format look like the other format but rather using the unique traits of each to provide the client with more variety.

One of the things that I have been offering my clients during their portrait sessions is to allow me to shoot a roll of medium format film along with the digital photos. Film has become a novelty with consumers and in general they think the offer is really cool. Also, by only shooting one roll it doesn’t add much to the session time. It does however, give them a totally different look than what I give them digitally.

You see, I use off camera lighting in almost all of my digital portraiture. With digital cameras letting anyone and everyone take great pictures, we as professionals have to provide photographs that the average person can’t do. Bring in the lights! The average person hates flash, can’t stand it. But if you know how to use it, your photos will be totally unique to theirs.  Flash is a mystery that the average consumer just isn’t willing to solve which makes it our ace in the hand. So I use off camera lighting big time! Sometimes it’s barely noticeable and sometimes it’s the main light source. It all depends on the look and mood I want to achieve.

With film I do the opposite and shoot all natural light. Do you remember all of those underexposed and awful colored photos from your insty cameras? That is where digital became the savior to the average consumer and they ran to it in droves. Film became that other mystery that the consumer didn’t want to solve. However if you do your homework film can provide true works of art.

In this post you will see similar shots. Some were photographed digitally and some were shot on medium format film. Is one right or wrong? Nope, just different. Do you like one more than the other? Your own personal tastes will dictate that. Is my client happy? Very happy and just as important her Mom is happy and she pays the bill don’t ya know.

Do I have a favorite? Yep.

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.

Let’s talk fishing

I’ve been having a love-hate relationship with technology lately. As an Art Director for a magazine I love what the advancements in technology has done to make my job easier. As a photographer I am placed more in the middle of the road about it. With certain things, such as off camera lighting, the digital revolution has helped tremendously. It certainly has made leaps and bounds of improvement in the quality of images from 35mm gear. My medium format film gear however, still puts up a good fight against digital. Yet as a father and member of society technology greatly frustrates me.

Yes those techno-marvel gadgets have made a lot of things easier, too easy in a lot of respects. Raising a teenager you realize that it is so much easier for kids to get into trouble because of the ease of access to various things due to society’s appetite for all things hi-tech. Kids and adults become mind controlled zombies glued to their tiny phone screens for hours a day. One on one conversations have been replaced by text messages and tweets. Life revolves around tiny, computerized pieces of disposable plastic.

Obviously I am from the generation that didn’t have these things as a child…thank God. You actually had to use your imagination and create fun things to do or you had to…gasp…go outside and play. Step away from the computer games young ones and walk towards the light!

There is one particular outdoor activity that has brought almost magical healing powers to both of my boys. Healing not from physical ailments but mental and emotional issues that this overloaded society piles on our children. That activity is fishing.

If you start them early, they will gladly put down all electronic devices, even the phones, to go fishing. Heck they will even get out of bed early which is no small feat when you are dealing with a teenager. Instead of staring at a tiny phone screen they will be entranced by that magical globe of red and white plastic floating in the water. The child’s whole being will be transfixed on that bobber waiting for the inevitable tap, tap, tap followed by plop under the water. Fish on!

There is a real sense of wonderment with a boy or girl’s first fish. The colors, the feel and yes sometimes even the smell of it all gets stored in their little brains. It’s cool, it’s real and it’s not electronic. Initially it will be all about catching fish for them but over time they will start to appreciate the whole experience. Things such as how the sky looked one evening as the sun set or the smell of the water mixed with fumes from a small outboard motor on a fishing boat. Maybe if they are lucky they will see a bald eagle swoop down and catch their own fish. This is a good place to be both in mind and sole.

What does this have to do with photography? If you have your camera with you, and you always should, you have the chance to capture moments of childhood innocence. Images of youth doing something healthy, clean and fun.

Tight lines and happy wandering.

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.