Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back in Marquette Again

About a year ago, I posted about my thoughts of my daughter and her partner leaving Marquette and coming down to live in Ann Arbor. To be honest, I did not know when I would be returning to visit Marquette. In May, my wife and I purchased a cottage along the Chocolay River in Harvey, about 4 mi. from downtown Marquette. Jorie and Stephanie are now living there, and Adrienne and I have a place to stay when we visit. It's not a big place -- less than 800 sq. ft., but it's in a beautiful location, and perfect for the the girls to live in. It's also a fantastic base for me to stay at when I visit. Marquette is jewel of a city -it's not the mining and shipping center that it once was, and has become a diverse city with an active urban center. On top of that are the wonderful natural features of the Lake Superior shore, the surrounding highlands, and the rivers and streams that flow through it. In short, it's a great place to be, and I truly envy those that live up here year-round. Maybe when I retire--it will be my next place to live. Until that happens, I'll have to make the most of my visits here and have fun with photographing what interests me.

Such as last nights' sunset...
Lake Superior Sunset
Sunset over Lake Superior.

I used my Nikon D70s for this, with a Tamron 28-200 ED lens. I always shoot sunsets in Manual, as I want to control my exposure to reflect the actual scene as closely as possible.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shades of Gray- Two New B&W Film Offerings from Lomography

Last month, I received an e-mail from a Lomography representative, asking if I was interested in writing something about the two new films being offered under the Lomography label -- "Earl Grey" and "Lady Grey." I offered to test the films and write up a short review about them. But first, let me preface this review with some comments about the Lomography brand.

There are those people that completely dismiss Lomography as being some sort of cultish fad that preys on the hipster crowd. There are others that drink the Lomography cool-aid and have no idea about other aspects of photography. I think most people are somewhere in between. I give the Lomography folks credit -- they have found a way to promote film cameras and film usage to a younger crowd that has grown up in the digital age, and along the way, have inspired some of this young talent to use film and embrace the concept that fim is a versatile and creative tool. Their products ARE fun - there is no doubt about that, and they have marketed their brand very well. Lomography has brought back plastic cameras such as the Diana, and improved on the original design. The company has come a long way from starting out as a subculture of Euro-centric film nuts, united with their love of the LOMO LC-A camera. Flash forward to 10 years later, and Lomography products are in stores, catalogs, and of course, on the web in a big way. The growth of their brand has increased as the usage of film has gone down. So, despite some of the criticism leveled at Lomography, I think it's fair to say that the company has helped keep film alive, and introduce a new crop of young photographers to "analogue photography." Of course, there will be some bumps in the road, but hopefully, my concerns below will be addressed.
Okay, I promised a review, and not a history lesson.
The package with the two boxes of film arrived -- and there were two 3-packs of 36 exposure film! One was the Earl Grey - ISO 100 black & white film, and the other was the Lady Grey ISO 400 black & white film. I'm not sure how they came up with these names, but I suppose someone thought it sounded cool. Of course, there are not new films, nor are they made by lomography. Both films are repackaged b&w film made by other companies. I'll get back to that under the review of each film. My tests are made using the film in my typical shooting routine.

EARL GREY - This film is 100 ISO, and the box indicates that it is made in the Czech Republic. From that, I deduced that it is Fomapan 100 film. I don't think I have ever shot with any 35mm Foma films, but I have used their 120 in the past. I loaded the film up in my Nikon FM2N and shot an entire roll in Dexter, MI one morning. ISO was set at 100. I used a 50mm f/2 Nikkor - the standard lens. I developed in Kodak Tmax RS developer.
A few examples from the roll:

LADY GREY - This appears to be Kodak T-Max 400, as the package indicated that the film was made in USA and packaged in Mexico. The pink tint to the anti-halation layer is a good indication that I am right, as are the typical Kodak film cans. I also used the FM2N, same lens, as well as a 28mm f/2.5 Vivitar and a 105mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. Some images were shot in Dexter-Chelsea area and many shot in Fenton, MI a few days later. The rolls I shot were also developed in Kodak T-Max RS developer. The edge markings merely have "B&W 400" along the film rebate.
A few examples from the rolls I shot:


Since both of the films tested are standard b&w films, there really should be no surprises in the testing. I think the Earl Grey is a bit contrasty - at least in the developer I used. I'll try Rodinal the next time and how that compares. I felt that the negatives were somewhat overexposed, but again, maybe it's the developer choice. The Lady Grey was very good, with minimal grain and no surprises. It looks like a T-grain film. All of the negatives were scanned using my Minolta DualScan II with VueScan software, and levels adjustments were made in Paint Shop Pro on my Dell running Windows 7. Either one of these films will be a good choice for general photography, and I'd be more apt to go with the Lady Grey, just because of the extra speed. However, if the Earl Grey is supposed to be a contrasty film, it should be good for those wanting a more vintage look to their images. I imagine it would be great for someone wanting to shoot "Bettie Page" type photos.

One catch here -- since these are true B&W films and not C-41, Lomography needs to provide an obvious web address to link to developing information. There are enough opportunities for novices to think that they can just take anything to the corner CVS/Walgreens/Target and get it developed. Imagine their shock when the equally clueless lab tech develops the film in the C-41 chemistry and a blank roll results. Not a good way to encourage people. I could not find ANY developing information on the Lomography web site on my own, and the Lomography rep sent me the links when I inquired -- which are really buried in their site. So, Lomography PLEASE make a better effort to (A) ensure that novice users do not mistake these films for C-41 monochrome and (B) print a web link on the boxes of film so that home developers can find the times and recommended developers. Until that is done, nobody is going to know what to do with their Earl Grey or Lady Grey film after it has been shot. I do recommend that photographers look at the Digital Truth site for the Fomapan 100 and T-Max 400 films.
The web links for developing info from the Lomo site:
Earl Grey
Lady Grey

Now, it could be that because Lomography has given the above films their own names, it's not impossible that another manufacturer might be used, in which case, they would hopefully update their web site with the proper processing information.

From Earl Grey

Lomography might be the only way for some folks to try out traditional b&w films; but for the unknowing, the packaging should say (THIS IS NOT A C-41 FILM!). In any event it's a way to get a few rolls of b&w at local outlets or via internet/mail. Have some Earl Grey hot, or Lady Grey cold, and give traditional monochrome films a try.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Kodak's New Portra 400 + The Film Photography Project

Back in July, the fine folks at the Film Photography Project announced that they were giving away rolls of Kodak's newest film, Portra 400. I'm always eager to try a new film, and having been delighted with Kodak's Ektar 100, I sent FPP a short email describing my blog and that I would be happy to test it out. A week or so later, I received a package in the mail..

I loaded the film into my Nikon N8008, and went out shooting with it over the next few days. I shot the film at box speed, with nothing special, no testing at ISO 1600, etc. Just shooting it like I would most films is my test. Why try something with it that I normally would not do, anyway? After I shot the roll, I mailed it to The Darkroom for the free processing that accompanied the roll from FPP. This evening, I received an email from The Darkroom notifying me that my scans were online and that my order was on the way back with the processed film and CD. So, I am selecting a few of the shots to share here - none have been post-processed by me - they are exactly as they appeared online at The Darkroom site.


White Lily

Echinacea at dusk

Old deer skull in the garden

Case of the cups

Amtrak at the crossing


Faces of Liberty

My overall impression? THIS FILM IS REALLY, REALLY, GOOD. Granted, I did not do some exhaustive testing, but I did shoot the things I typically do. I love the colors, the smoothness of the film, and of course, although I did not scan this batch, I will scan the next roll that I purchase. The scans look very clean and this film is very fine-grained. Kodak has scored a hit with this film -- shadows are good, sharpness great, and grain negligible. In fact, I hate to say this -- but it almost is so perfect-looking as to appear digital -- but with a LOT more latitude -- see how the shadows are not blocked out the the street photo at the beginning.

My recommendation -- buy this film - buy a lot of it. Kodak deserves some praise for "getting it" when it comes to workflow, as for me -- and with most film shooters today, the scanner is a large part of the routine. Portra 400 seems to have all of the qualities we have been looking for in a C-41 color film - speed, latitude, color, and "feel." Kodak is producing this film in a multitude of formats - 35mm, 120, 4x5 (and maybe 8x10?), and I hope it hangs around for a while.

My thanks to the Film Photography Project for the opportunity to try out the Eastman Kodak Portra 400 and testing The Darkroom's services. Both are outstanding.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Long-Term Projects

Every now and the I read where someone asks what he or she should do in photography, as if running out of ideas is what's consuming them. My advice -- start a project -- something long term, and see how your approach and your depth of understanding changes as you become more engaged in a project. It doesn't have to be unusual, trendy, or arty. Pick something that you'd like to know more about, something that you might be afraid to try, a subject that means something to you personally, a topic that might be socially enlightening, or maybe something that has to do with nothing more than a favorite color. The point is to start something and see where it takes you. At the heart of art is an inquisitiveness, as art and science sometimes overlap, it's the search for meaning.

back doors

For years, I have been interested in the backsides of buildings along "Main Street" in small towns. It used to be that people lived above their stores or businesses, and in many places, one worked very close to where one lived. Today, that's not often the situation. but where downtowns thrive, it seems that people also live in apartments above the businesses. The backside of a building tells me more about the uses of that building than the storefronts do. They tend to be more utilitarian, and also show something about the inhabitants as well as the businesses located there. Documenting these "backsides" has been a long-term project and something I try and do when I have the opportunity to visit a town. Like many long-term projects, I don't know where it will end up, but as the saying goes, "The journey is the reward."

Try your own long-term project and see where it takes you.
night lights

urban backdoor

spiral escape