September 2013

First (and Last?) Olympus OM-2 Film

You might remember how by a rookie mistake I managed to waste an entire film a while back. Well, I loaded a new film into the camera and the results are finally here. And why did it take so long? Firstly, I started to prefer shooting on the OM-1. And secondly, a personal dry period when shooting meant that nothing on the film really caught my eye, and in turn a delay of a few months before scanning them.

Let’s start with a few shots from the film:

I like the two Scholastique (…) but it goes a bit downhill from there. My girlfriend pointed out a while back what difference my mood often has on my photos — when going through a generally content period the result so far has often been better — which, I suppose, is not too surprising, yet obvious in these shots: while finishing the Ph.D. there honestly wasn’t much energy for anything else, including creativity in the finer arts.

The Church photo is from my hometown Esbjerg, as is Where I Used to Swim of the swimming pool where I spent the greater part of the teenage years; it is less remote than it perhaps seem and was actually taken during a quick walk from my parents’ house. Notice that these two shots both contain significant light leaks, meaning the foam that is supposed to prevent light from creeping onto the film through the rear door has probably become too old. On Church I’ve applied my newly acquired Photoshop skills in an attempt to repair it, yet it took so long that I’m still building up momentum to start on the second one (I tried a few different approaches but in the end frequency separation as used in beauty retouching yielded the best result).

The use on Photoshop brings up an interesting question, namely how does analogue and digital photography mix? Since I can’t currently make prints due to the lack of a darkroom, scanning and working on the photos digitally is tremendously convenient if they are to have any kind of life. Plus, as the light leak repair attempt shows, digitally I can (sort of) do stuff that seems almost impossible to do in the darkroom. But that of course begs the question, why even bother with shooting analogue then? I suppose it’s just to try something new. And the prospect of eventually going to the darkroom to make proper prints.

Two Old Lomography Films

It has been lost, it has been found, and now finally it has been scanned: my first film, shot on the Lomography Fisheye! The fisheye effect is cute, but unfortunately both the camera and the film leaves some to be desired, not least because many of the shots came out quite dark.

Alors, my very first film:

I like all the photos here, and think that the fisheye effect has worked pretty well for these scenarios: close-up faces and wide areas — but notice the silly built-in flash on Guinness Envy, covering only half of the frame..

On the second film I’m most in favour of Summer Time! for the same reasons as above, and Green Bike for it’s distorted lines (colour tweaked digitally):

Both films are the Lomography Color Negative 400. And while I wouldn’t say that it’s a particular good film given the others I’ve tried at this point, it’s probably not supposed to be and in fact it fits nicely with the silly camera.

Film #8

Another black & white film from the summer vacations and walks around Paris! Often when I haven’t seen a black & white photo in a while, I get a bit surprised when one pops up again: there really can be something special about them! In fact, not many things inspire me more to pick up a camera than the old master photos by e.g. RonisDoisneau, or Cartier-Bresson. My photos come nowhere near the masters, but, as the cliché goes, it’s about having fun and experimenting with new things.

The two photos from Notre-Dame du Haut (see also here) were taken during a trip to the east of France with my girlfriends family. And while the chapel itself was impressive, it was actually a bit of a struggle to find a good view on it and I ended up with only four photos in total.

Next up are the sky-scraper photos Social Buildings, Light Strip, Modernism, and Neighbourhood, taken on a walk in the south-easy of Paris. In taken Social Buildings I kept an eye out for the three guys, thinking they might not realise that my camera wasn’t at all fancy and expensive — but got turned into a fool when one of them they turned around and send me a big smile. Photographically I think it shows that I took my time that day, walking around alone and not minding to spending ten minutes or more at each spot to try different angles.

Finally, I’ve also played more with negative space. For River Seine Flooded the dark clouds adds to the drama of the flooded river, but for White Sky — and in particular Rocket House and Bicycle on Balcony — the large empty sky helps bring focus to the rooftop; so far this is the best technique I’ve found for doing this, as including too much of the building tends to confuse the viewer about what to look at. For Arrow the story is again a bit different: sitting at a café and taking a break from reading, I was making a simple composition with the church rooftop, when all of a sudden the clouds formed an arrow pointing at the cross. Unfortunately it was difficult to control all my excitement and ended up taking it a tad too early; by the time I had advanced the film the arrow was gone again.

Film #7

This may be my best black & white film to date, and several things came together in order to make it happen.

First of all, at the time of shooting I was starting to get back to life outside the office, and among other things just physically getting outside some more. Combined with a change of scenery this brought back some motivation and inspiration in me that I think for instance shows through the difference of the shots and the romantic hint in Park Boldplay and Back Alley.

Secondly, I like the composition in many of these. One technique I probably used — given by Jay Maisel in a video on KelbyTraining.com — is to quickly look around the entire border before shooting to make sure that the cropping does not introduce anything distracting by for instance cutting it in half. Bridge on Boulevard is a good example of this, where the chimneys in the upper left corner are intact as well as the shadow of the tree in the lower right corner. Another example is Wardrobe Problems.

And speaking of tricks, in trying to evaluate a composition — or even if the scene is worth shooting — I often find it useful to try to look at the view in the viewfinder as if it were a (printed) picture and not reality. It somehow seems to make me forget about details and instead be more critical of the overall shot. Focusing out a bit (not unlike when viewing the 90s autostereograms) works well sometimes.

Thirdly we have the exposure. Now this is a technical detail, but since I used the little manual exposure table for all of them, it means that it’s working fairly well and worth continuing!

Finally, I see improvements in my digital printing, i.e. scanning and post-processing in Photoshop. Take Quartier du Montparnasse for instance: to a further extend that previously I’ve managed to keep both shadow and highlight details in the scanning, and moreover, to give the man an interesting contrast and the wet ground a somewhat silvery look in Photoshop. Another example is the goalkeeper and the leaves in Park Boldplay. The scanning improvements come from just playing around with the software, but for the the tonalities I’ve learned a lot from the highly recommended The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum.

A Bunch of Black & White Films

I try to keep my Flickr photostream and this blog somewhat synchronised such that most photos on the former are given a context here on the latter. However, I realised the other day that a bunch of recent black & white photos have leaked onto the photostream without a proper presentation.

The first is a roll shot on the Fisheye primarily back in Aarhus, at a point where I didn’t have the time to develop it:

The next is from around the same period and the first roll shot on my Olympus OM-1 nicknamed Kurt — notice how many of the shots are from my former university office; didn’t get much out at the time:

Moving on, the next two are from the period around handing in my thesis, and contain a mix from my hometown Esbjerg, my grandparents diamond wedding, and going to Paris:

Finally, the last roll is also from Paris but this time on the latest OM-1 nicknamed Jane Graham:

So there it is, order has been restored!

A Change in Hosting

The blog has been hosted by Bluehost since the beginning, but due to raising prices and me realising that I wasn’t using all their advanced features, it’s now been moved to UnoEuro instead for around one tenth of the price.

For the past week it’s been running smoothly, perhaps even a bit faster from where I sit, with the only issue being that I haven’t been able to get direct access to a full backup of the site along with the databases.

Hiking In Sweden

By a series of coincidences I again this year ended up spending part of the summer in Sweden. This time also in a tent, but with an old friend instead and with even less modern day luxury.

From our little trip to Norway and tenting in Sweden last year I’ve been wanting to try a more Bear Grylls kind of trip close to nature, and for some reason my old friend Tim has also had the idea that hiking might be the way forward.

We talked about the south-east of France, Berchtesgaden National Park in Germany, and even the highlands in Scotland. But in the end it was pretty hard to beat the Swedish Allemansrätten; not least because of its liberties and the country’s beautiful nature, but also because our nordic bigger brothers have laid out very promising routes with spots for drinking water and shelters: without a car and unable to find concrete route suggestions in the southern countries we started to wonder if we could find accommodation every night, and decided that it must be the intermediate stage.

So, we ended up settling on Öresundsleden in Skåne. It turned out to be a great choice, both because of the nature it took us through, but also because it seemed to fit our beginners level pretty well: we hiked for a week and managed to just cross the line where a bit of padding on our own shoulders seemed in order.

As the pictures show the route takes you through a lot actually: open landscape, dense forest, and what (by a Dane) could be called mountains. We also went through a lot of small fishing villages and as a result enjoyed splendid fish, often several times a day. Highly recommendable!

By the way, I only brought along an old analogue camera (an Olympus OM-1). For one, I’ve been more into that stuff recently. Secondly, it doesn’t run out of batteries so no worries if there are no outlets around. And thirdly, it’s cheaper to replace if broken or lost.

I shot a total of around 50 frames on two different films — a Fujifilm Superia and half a Kodak Portra — and besides some issues of not being able to focus too well (only took the 35-70mm) they came out pretty decent. Since I just used my little table for setting the exposure, with the errors this implies, both films also seem to be quite forgiving, and hence candidates for a good general purpose colour film.

And Allemansrätten? It worked great; brilliant concept! And only once did we add to the statistic of Danes breaking it; in our case a kind park ranger knocked on the tent at 8am to inform us that we were in a restricted area and had to leave.

First Kodak Portra 160

By Kodak’s own statement their Portra 160 film is “the ideal choice for portrait, fashion and commercial photography — whether in the studio or on location — [in that it] delivers exceptionally smooth and natural skin tone reproduction”. However, a lot of people also seem to like it as a general purpose colour film so I decided to give it a try.

In my little test I’ve previously come across three films — the Fujifilm Superia, the AgfaPhoto Vista, and the Kodak Ektar — which the Portra is hence up against.

Now, the Portra is the most expensive film, but also the easiest to come by: Negatif+ has always had them in stock and I often see them when stopping by in other photo stores. The other films on the other hand were ordered from macodirect.de (which has a good selection but adds a somewhat high fee for a relatively slow shipping). Moreover, from various discussions online I’ve gotten the impression that it’s the highest quality film of the four, both in terms of grain, tonal rendition, and exposure latitude.

For my thoughts on the film, it definitely has an unique colour toning, in particular, it seems, for greens and reds (for instance in Light Strokes and Port de l’Arsenal). This is not a bad thing, and in fact I like that it is something different that the JPEGs from my digital camera.

It doesn’t produce saturated colours and I’m not getting the vulgar impressions as I did with the Vista nor the disappointments with the Ektar. Moreover, it renders skin and fur very naturally: The Twins (In Chair)Scholastique (with Irka), and The Twins (Lying Around).

It hence seems that it is down to either the Superia or the Portra, and luckily I have one of each coming up with an overlap in the scenes. Comparing only the scans of the films, although all done by Negatif+, does also introduce some uncertainty in that it is unknown how much colour manipulation is performed in their scanning process; for the next comparison I’ll hence also look at prints from each film.