Painting with light and the Mamiya C33

I am still rocking this camera since my last post. In fact now I have two of them. One Mamiya C33 I will be running black and white film through it and the other I will continue to run color film through it. Plus, if one ever breaks I have a back up camera! Yay!

It has been an interesting few months learning the C33 and getting used to what it can and can’t do well. I have been mostly using Kodak Portra films and having them professionally developed and scanned. The results have been amazing and very satisfying for me. It has become my go to camera when my wife and I go out and about exploring. However after seeing the results from one of our trips to the Chicago Botanic gardens, I am going to have to take what I can do with this camera way more seriously. I was able to create art! I am an artist by trade but this was the first time that I felt I had made a painting using light and film. I will be pursuing this more in the future with the C33.

The magic came from using the Mamiya lenses almost wide open, mixing it with beautiful natural light and choosing the right film to paint the colors. In this case it was Kodak Ektar film. The subject was the lily display at the gardens. In most of the area the light was strong midday lighting but in a couple of spots there was shade with some spattered lighting sneaking through. I tend to use this camera on a monopod all of the time because of it’s size and weight. It helps keep it steady for the slower shutter speeds. Very little work is done to the scans afterwards other than dust removal and maybe some curve adjustments. Everything is done in camera at the moment it clicks. I have added a couple of other photos to this post for you to see what you can do with this camera.

Happy wanderings and long live film!

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.

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!

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.

It’s not fair

As we get older things we used to be able to do at a younger age hurt more than they used to. Our bodies, like an old car, get more miles on them and our parts start to show their age and start to wear out. This is to be expected, maybe not liked but expected. It seems reasonably fair.

When someone you know or love, or even yourself, gets diagnosed with cancer it never seems fair. With age however, we expect to see more of these ugly possibilities showing up. Fair enough I guess.

To me what has never seemed fair is when a child gets cancer. For a child to have to spend their precious young years fighting a disease to stay alive is not fair. I know there are plenty of other societal issues that have children fighting for their lives and those aren’t fair either but today I am talking about cancer.

Why bring this up in a photography blog? Well I was recently given the privilege of photographing a precious little three and half year old girl named Ania. I was photographing her for The Little Lutheran magazine. Ania has cancer of the eye called Retinoblastoma. By the time I was able to photograph her the cancer had already required the removal of her left eye. Her right eye is the most beautiful, brilliant blue that I have ever seen. I can only imagine her left eye was the same. It’s not fair.

Ania is a happy, vibrant little girl who just happens to love painting pictures. Her mom Erica came up with the idea as art therapy for Ania and it took off from there. For a young budding artist to lose one of their eyes does not seem fair.

It has not slowed Ania down for she continues to paint prolifically with glee while listening to her favorite music. Art supplies were donated by Blick Art Materials, which gave Ania a stash of paints, brushes and canvases that would be the envy of any artist. Unfortunately as we know, cancer does not play fair. Ania now has to endure six months of systemic chemotherapy. She will feel sick and she will lose her hair all in the hopes of stopping her cancer once and for all. It’s not fair.

Erica writes a blog chronicling Ania’s cancer battle. It can be found at, Ania is a warrior for sure but so are her parents. They are giving all they have to save their little girl. They have opened an Etsy store at where they sell prints of Ania’s paintings to help pay for the medical and travel bills. The costs of this battle, as you can imagine, are not fair.

The day I photographed Ania, I chose to shoot a roll of medium format film along with the required digital images. The film images are what you see here. If you would like to help Ania, go to the Esty site and buy a painting or follow Erica’s blog and say a prayer. Help make Ania’s fight a little more fair.