Tag Archives: Black & White

First Ilford XP2 Super 400

Unlike the black and white films I’ve shot so far, the Ilford XP2 Super 400 (together with the Kodak BW400CN) are meant for standardised machine processing in C41 chemicals. People claim that the quality suffers a bit, but it is a lot easier to just drop it off at the developer’s and ask for prints than locating (or turning your kitchen into) a darkroom!

A bit disappointingly, the prints have less contrast than I’d normally go for in either scanning or making prints in the darkroom; perhaps simply due to me picking the same cheapest print option that so far has worked fine for colour prints, yet it takes some of the motivation away (and makes you wonder what the colour prints would look like in a premium print). On the other hand, the negatives seem to contain a lot more detail than the prints show, so as such there might not be much lost going with this film, despite not having struck printing gold — and some prints are better than none I suppose.

As for the shots themselves, I think Behind the Shop, The Lucky Middle, and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont turned out well. I really like the light in Scooter Light and the scenery in View on Montmartre was simply spectacular.

Film #15

Another black and white night film finished, push-processed at ASA 800 up from 400. Underexposed but with a few good results.

I consistently get the exposure wrong for night scenes, shooting around EV3-5; with a fast f/1.4 lens and a Kodak T-Max 400 shot at ASA 800 this should give me a comfortable minimum of 1/30s shutter speed to compensate for shaking. Yet looking at the negatives, most scenes on this roll required at least another stop to be properly exposed. As I’ve mentioned before though, it’s mind-boggling how much information is still in the negatives, and how much of it can be extracted by my mid-range Epson V600.

I like Midnight Hook-up for the empty atmosphere and corner romance; being underexposed is perhaps even adding to the picture here. Likewise, the sharp contract needed to pull anything from Piggyback fits with the blur and mood of the picture (this was not what some might call an artistic choice; I simply did not want to stop walking while taking the shot). Finally, I also really like Midnight Metro, and wonder if I did not get a fair amount of mood for free here by using an analogue camera.

First Ilford HP5+ 400 (Film #12)

It makes good sense what I’ve heard on several occasions: that one should stick with one sort of black & white film, say the Kodak T-Max 400, and become good at exposing it, developing it, and printing it. Still, following my little test of different colour films I thought it’d be fun to see what other black & white films were up to; at the very least to know that there are good alternatives when Kodak stops their production. Continue reading

Film #11

Before Christmas I developed the latest black & white film, yet didn’t have time to scan it before going to my family for the holidays. Now it’s here, and the most interestingly thing is perhaps that for post-processing I’ve tried to go in a direction of what I heard described as having “European rich shadows“.

So what does it mean? Well, I’m still finding out, but believe I can see some of what is meant in the photos by Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Ronis, and my most recent discovery, Peter Turnley: during scanning and post-processing I didn’t lift the shadows as much as usual while focused on still keeping a lot of detail in them. Of the photos below it worked out best for Under the Bridge and Japanese Chef, and to a smaller extend for Idou:

It is tricky no doubt, and I’m starting to understand why they said that being a good printer — the person, not the machine — is an art form in itself.

Nikon FM and Film #10

Another analogue camera arrived in the mail about a month ago, but this time a Nikon FM instead of the usual Olympus OM-1! Granted, it is silly to get involved in too many systems as the lenses from one system often cannot be used on a camera from the other (and as a result you need to buy two separate sets) — but I kept reading about how much of a classic the FM is, … et voilà!

Here’s first the result of quickly running a film through the camera to see if everything worked alright before the return option expired:

I like Le Guardien for how it draws me into the frame, and the dynamics added by the central walking character. For Passing Sky it’s the silhouettes, although this was not entirely my intention. And as RooftopBalcony Overview, and Paris shows, I’m apparently not quite done with negative space and rooftops yet. For Gare du Nord it’s the dynamics of the various lines, the contrast they contribute, and the movement of the two characters at the bottom.

The camera is the black version and I thought at first that it could be used together with the 18-55mm lens from my digital Nikon D60. The lens mounted alright, but after a few shots something seemed wrong. I went back to check the fine print, and while I had already read that the lens would not cover the entire frame at the wide focal lengths, I had missed that you’re forced to always use the smallest aperture, meaning f/22 in my case! The Passing Sky photo above is a perfect example of the implications: the corners are black and rounded, and the shadows are heavily underexposed. The former is not critical, perhaps even a bit interesting, but the later made me look around for a new lens.

At first I thought about a 50mm f/1.8 standard lens. But discovering that the price-drop for Nikon lenses has nowhere-near followed that of the Olympus lenses, I gave up on also starting a set of Nikon primes and went with a 28-70mm zoom instead; at f/3.5-4.5 it is a lot darker that my Olympus primes, but at 70€ it seems to have been a bargain.

In the end I hence ended up spending around twice, but so far have been very happy with the outcome. The camera it slightly bigger than the OM-1 it was apparently made to compete with, but this is actually not a bad thing as it fits my hands better. It also feels slightly more robust, not least the film advancer and the shutter. On the other hand, the viewfinder in the OM-1 kicks arse (!!) and having the shutter dial around the lens mount so far also works better for me, even if I most of the time work only with the aperture.

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.

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.