Mar 132014
 

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Shooting & Processing Cinema Film in a Still Camera

by Brett Price

Hey Steve,

Thought I’d write up a quick little article on a recent set of photos I took. I’ve submitted several posts before outlining several photography related experiences with different equipment/techniques I’ve been playing around with, a lot of the fun in photography for me is the ongoing discovery of new techniques, equipment or processes. The latest addition would be my experience shooting motion picture film in a still camera. There’s a lot to do with something like this so Its not exactly something someone can just pick up and do but I figure that this article could be a first step to many who might be interested.

**See Brett’s other posts HEREHEREHERE and HERE**

First off, All of the shots below were rolled, shot, developed/processed and scanned in an at home process and were all taken with Kodak Vision 3 500t film. This is a fabulously versatile film that used a great deal in modern cinematography. This is the same film that you can also purchase online, called CINESTILL FILM that has had a special process to make it capable of being developed at a traditional film lab. (more on that later).

One of the reasons I wanted to play around with this film is because well, I still shoot a lot of film, and the choices for films are becoming more and more limited today for still photography. I still feel like cinema film has a place for a while until most of the more seasoned DPs give it up and its relatively more affordable to shoot considering how much more of it you can buy. You mainly just have to have the infrastructure to take it from beginning to end to make that work, something I have developed over the years. Another reason, like I mentioned is the cost. I purchased a 400ft roll of kodak film online for about 100 dollars. That’s enough color film to make over 100 rolls. That is a dollar a roll, not too bad. It’s also a film thats really not available in still format. Most still films are daylight balanced, which can be troublesome if you shoot it under any type of tungsten light. I’ve never really understood why films were made that way, with no high-speed stocks available for that type of light. It’s quite easy to take a high-speed film and add a warming filter to it to shoot outdoors if needed. Its pretty difficult to take a daylight film and shoot indoors, as the filters remove a great deal of light, and then you have to shoot it in a place where typically there isn’t a great deal of light.

But oh well. It’s a fantastic film. All of these shots were taken outdoors or by open windows without a filter so this is the look you can get when you shoot it outside. It’s very blue but able to be balanced nicely in the scanning process. It’s also a very versatile film if it’s all you shoot as all it really needs to shoot outside is a warming filter. I shoot a lot at night and in urban environments so this film really fits my daily Leica carry.

The first step is getting it into shootable cassettes. Bulk loading is pretty common with b&w film, as you can still buy 100ft rolls of it. All you need is to separate out about 100ft from the 400ft roll and load it into a bulk loader and then into the film cassettes. Pretty easy.

One of the reasons everyone hasn’t picked up on this film yet is the fact that it comes rolled with a layer on the film called REMJET. Remjet is a layer on the back of the film that is typically removed in the films native process but the C-41 process does not account for. You can’t just shoot this film and take it to a lab for development. Not only will the film ruin the lab’s chemistry, it will come out with a layer of soft black gook on the back. The CINESTILL film that is available for purchase has this layer pre-removed so the film can be developed in any lab, hence why its caught on with a lot of 35mm film shooters.

All of these shots were home developed and not taken from a lab. I actually used waste lab chemistry because I work at a lab but the same process can be done with any home c-41 kit. The biggest unknown for a lot of people, even me, was how easy or difficult it is to remove the Remjet layer after processing the film. There’s a lot of stuff online that goes into detail about how difficult or easy it is but nothing very specific of helpful. I actually found this to be super easy. The film comes out after processing almost totally opaque, if you touch the back of it you’ll get an inky black residue on your fingers, it comes off quite easily but the issue is you don’t really want to get it on the emulsion side. All I did was wet a microfiber cloth, grab the film from the top, and essentially squeegee it from top to bottom. This took off the rem jet perfectly. All that’s left is to restabilize the film so you don’t get water spots from the wet cloth.

I have access to a lab scanner so these were pretty straight forward to scan in but the process of scanning can be done after development like any other film. Also pretty straightforward.

I really like the characteristics of this film. I’ll probably pick up a roll of Kodak 250D (daylight) as well and then i feel like all my bases would be covered for shooting color 35mm. It’s a super versatile film and the process isn’t nearly as scary as many people make it seem. I would highly suggest checking out the CINESTILL website for side by side examples as to why this film is so nice. They lay it out between some more popular films like Portra and Fuji Pro, and the results are pretty easy to see.

Anyway, I post a great deal to various websites ill list below, please check them out for more shots. Hope you all like my photos with this film and my write-up on it as well. Happy shooting.

Brett Price

Instagram: Brettprice

Tumblr: Brettprice.tumblr.com

Website: www.iambrettprice.com

Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/brettprice

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Mar 112014
 

The Leica Summilux 21mm f1.4 ASPH on the Sony A7r

By Robin Mudge

I love shooting with ultra wide-angle lenses. My favorite street kit has been a Leica M9 with Summilux-M 21mm f1.4 ASPH and for medium format work a technical camera with Rodenstock’s f4 32 mm HR Digaron-W. This short exposition is a record of my experiences to date using a new Sony Alpha 7r with the Summilux-M 21mm lens.

A year ago a I bought a Sony RX-1 and despite it’s fixed moderate wide-angle of 35mm it has been my camera of choice ever since. Print quality surpasses that from the M9 and while it obviously can’t match up to the technical camera, its compactness and ease of use has made me reluctant to load myself up with the technical camera back-pack for some time. I used the RX-1 with both an optical and electronic viewfinder; the size, weight, almost silent shutter and auto focus made it a dream to use.

However, although enjoying the wonderful fixed 35 mm lens, I still hankered after a wider-angle point of view. Despite being a long-term dedicated Leica user, for me the Leica M240 seemed to be a camera that Jumped the Shark. But a camera only slightly larger than the RX-1, with even higher resolution and with interchangeable lens’ was too much to resist. Enter the Sony Alpha 7r. Plenty has been written about this camera, and many people have talked about potential problems using ultra wide lenses with the 7r but I had not seen much pictorial evidence.

From what had been said I was anticipating notable green/magenta lens cast as well as corner vignetting, both of which are to be expected when matching other manufacturers lenses to a high-resolution sensors, especially with ultra wide-angle lenses. Vignetting is an inherent issue with ultra wide angles because of their design and the green/magenta lens cast is caused by light exiting the lens being refracted as it grazes across the physical structure of the sensor (the problem gets worse the wider angle the lens and the higher resolution the sensor).

With matched bodies and lenses the camera firmware automatically corrects resulting lens casts; something that is not possible when using other manufactures lenses with these bodies, However, I was not so worried about this as under these circumstances it is common to correct lens cast affects by producing lens profiles, which when applied cancel out the effects (a common practice for technical camera users).

With all this in mind I mounted the Summilux 21mm on my newly acquired 7r via a Metabones adapter and set off to photograph a few locations in the neighborhood. At first glance through the viewfinder, I was pleasantly surprised to see little evidence of the magenta/green cast, but it was clear that vignetting was very strong at full aperture and didn’t start to improve until after f4. The extent of the vignetting was not really apparent until shooting the raw files to be used for creating lens profiles.

This involves shooting with translucent plastic covering the lens. A grey image is created that shows all the defects of the lens and sensor combination. This image is then used to produce a lens profile where adjustments are automatically applied to create a perfectly even image, across the entire frame, with both colorcast and vignetting corrected. A lens profile for each aperture has to be produced as both color cast and vignetting changes at each f-stop. The appropriate lens profile is then applied to correct the lens cast before any further processing is done. Of course vignetting tools can be used and are much quicker, but they do not remove any color casts that may be present. One other thing, the lens profile does not correct for chromatic aberration, edge effects or distortion. This has to be done with the tools of your choice. I use Capture 1 to process most of my images because it is relatively simple to produce and apply lens profiles. The Adobe Flat Field plugin does the same thing in Lightroom.

The attached images are of the Peabody Library in Baltimore, and the lens profile image, both shot at f1.4. The series shows both the unprocessed image of both and the post processed images, just with the lens profile applied.

At f1.4 the vignetting is really strong; but whether it is unacceptable or not obviously depends on the subject matter and personal taste. Correcting for it is bound to add considerable noise to the corners of the image and take some time! Sadly, for me, because vignetting does not start to improve until around f4 it seems pointless using this very expensive fast lens on this body. I’m hoping that some of the slower ultra-wades will perform better, we will see.

Lens profile image

21 test-f1.4 calibration image

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Without profile…

21 test-f1.4 library-uncorrected-1

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Both images below are with Profile correction…

21 test-f1.4 library_corrected-1

21 test-f1.4-lcc

On Moiré.

I have never experienced moiré before, with any of the cameras I have used without anti-aliasing filters. But when looking at a shot in the ‘hood’ of a new apartment development, there it was. The windows were treated with very narrow venetian blinds and voila, instant moiré.

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B’nai Israel Synagogue2

B’nai-Israel-Synagogue1

Oct 022013
 

“Down The Drain” 

Down the drain

The Future Is In The Past – The Leica Monochrom and Photogravure

Max Marinucci Photography

Fine Art Photography

Silver Gelatin and Photogravure

South Salem, NY

www.maxmarinucci.com

As a photographer and printer, I’ve always seen the advent of digital photography as a mixed blessing. The gain in speed, convenience, immediacy, offered by digital photography, also meant the gradual loss of film and everything related to it (photographic paper, chemicals) and, more importantly, the loss of learned skills and knowledge that are needed to produce truly hand-made prints. I have, of course, continued to use film for most of my work and honed my skills producing quality silver gelatin prints, in a world when a photographer feels like he is constantly swimming against the digital current. Kodak is no longer a driving force and so many manufacturers have disappeared or stopped making photographic product, with Ilford being the only reliable and consistent source as of today. Over the past year, while still dedicated to film photography and silver gelatin, I’ve rediscovered what is the most venerable, and in my opinion most beautiful of photographic processes: photogravure. A venerable process, and a 19th century invention, it was indeed how photography came to life, on paper, at the dawn of it all. On the camera front, as a devoted Leica user, I’ve continued with my trusty M3 and later film incarnations as the M4, M6, M7 and MP, until finally breaking down and acquiring a Monochrom upon release. There was no denying that the allure of a no fuss, great Leica camera that captures images in black and white only was too much to bear but, as my personality dictates, everything has to have a clear purpose. I am not an inkjet printer and I see no purpose in spending a good chunk of hard-earned cash on a camera to simply post digital snapshots on social networks or photography related websites, in a vacuum, with a purely digital workflow. As a photographer, artist and a printer, how do I justify the investment and, better yet, how do I bring the amazingly detailed images that the Monochrom is able to record, to life, on paper? Marrying our historic photographic past to the latest in technology, in a seamless way, and one that offers the viewer, collector, buyer, a tangible product that is not mass-produced but it is a handmade work of art, seemed the one and only way for me.

The Leica Monochrom and Photogravure: the future is in the past.

“The Old Man By The Window”

Old Man By The Window

Because of technological advances within the printing industry, and pioneers such as Jon Cone of Piezography, Roy Harrington of QTR, and Mark Nelson of Precision Digital Negatives (and few others) today it is possible to print absolutely flawless digital positives to use for the photogravure process. Of course, that doesn’t make this amazing process any easier, as it still involves the same numerous (and full of pitfalls) steps as it did one hundred years ago, but one only needs to admire in person the incredible prints born from Leica Monochrom images and onto fine art papers, hand-made with beautiful inks, to realize how special this is. I firmly believe that for a fine art photographer and printer, who is willing to let go of the constant film versus digital battles and discussions, these can be exciting times, if only one is willing to learn and push the boundaries a bit. For my own work it has now come to a point when shooting film with the ultimate goal of making photogravure plates and prints is almost not worth it. Of course, medium and large format film still offer many possibilities but, at the end of the day, film still has to be scanned and that will always be the weakest link (and probably weaker as we go on, as film scanners are barely in production). While results can be more than acceptable with 35mm, and I will still continue on this path on occasion, the amount of detail and the possibilities available with the Leica Monochrom and photogravure are truly exciting and special.

“Porte, Cassis” 

Porte, Cassis 1

For the novice who may be wondering why go through the trouble of using such a cumbersome and antiquated process to produce a print, I’d like to again outline a few important points: obviously, for as beautiful as the best inkjet prints may be, there are no particular skills required and no “hands on” aspect. If one enjoys actually “making” something, an inkjet print gives no satisfaction. Then there is the aspect of the print itself. With inkjet, we have ink (and a crappy one in most cases), sitting on top of the paper. With photogravure etchings, the image is IN the paper. What does that mean? Well, an etching on copper is basically peaks and valleys. The valleys are the deep crevices, which hold more ink and create the deep shadows and blacks, and the peaks will hold much less and create the highlights in print. Of course, we have everything in between, for a true full range of tones. What this does is actually creating a relief on paper. The images have a structure and depth that one cannot replicate with an inkjet printer, or with any other process.

“Strength and Grace”

Strength and Grace

The Prints:

All prints are in editions of 20, with image size 12×8 for standard 35mm format and 8×8 for square crops. Printed on Magnani Revere or Somerset papers, using Graphic Chemicals, Charbonnelle, and Izote etching inks. Of course archival qualities far exceed those of inkjet prints and even silver gelatin. Every print is hand made by me, and hand pulled using a manual etching press. Aside from the original digital file and the production of a “positive” on clear film, the process is fully analog.

A word about the Photogravure process:

Please do note that when I say photogravure, I mean, “copper-plate photogravure”. There is another printing process that uses pre-sensitized “polymer” plates and a few “artists” have gotten into the habit of calling it simply “photogravure”. It is NOT the same thing! Copper plate photogravure, is an etching process. A gelatin resist that is first sensitized in potassium dichromate is exposed (using first an aquatint screen or rosin dust), then applied to a sheet of mirror finish copper, developed and finally “etched” in a series of ferric chloride acid baths. The Photo-Polymer process is NOT an etching process and it does not require chemicals in any of its steps. It is much easier to master and prints can be absolutely beautiful but…IT IS NOT “PHOTOGRAVURE”.

Aug 202013
 

VSCO Film 04: Slide Film filters

Some of you may remember a post I made a short while ago on the VSCO film filters for Lightroom and Camera RAW. They are popular but controversial just like all “film” filters are and VSCO just released the SLIDE set which I feel is the best set of filters by them to date. If you have purchased other filter packs from them then this set will cost you less than $60 right now.

I am not doing a huge extensive posting on this set but will show you a full set of images using each preset. Keep in mind there are many variants of each preset and below is just one, the portrait preset of each film. The 1st set of images below of my Mother are all full size files from the Nikon V1 and the 1st image is the out of camera file.

Below that are random images treated with various slide film filters.

You can check out the VSCO Slide film pack HERE.

outofcam

astia100 e100G e100VS E200 fortiasp provia100f scala200 velvia50

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The image below was shot with an Olympus E-P5 and 17 1.8 wide open. I used the Scala + Contrast filter in VSCO. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Olympus E-P5 and Panasonic 20 1.7II – Provia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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A full size file from the Sony RX1R treated with the Provia 400 filter – click it for full size and to see the grain the filter applies

rx1provia400

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Velvia 100 on a Nikon V1 file

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Provia – Nikon V1 and 18.5

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Scala 200 on a Nikon V1 file

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Scala 200  - Nikon V1

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E100 – Nikon V1

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Jun 182013
 

titleformono

An Anatomical Mono Breakdown

by Brad Nichol

I while back Steve published an article of mine titled One Giant Polaroid where I gave some insight into photographic processes I use which I felt it might be of interest in the context of the artwork discussed in the article. This time round I thought I could give some insight into monochrome techniques that perhaps readers might be able to at least partially put into practice their own work. Please bear in mind this is not meant to be an instructional piece but rather some words to provide a little inspiration regarding the options you may consider in working in monochrome.

As said in the previous article, I am a firm believer that to be consistently creative, a photographer needs control over their tools, processes and methodologies, otherwise it’s all a bit of a lottery and potentially wasteful of time and resources and creative energy. Today I will look specifically at some methods I use to create high quality monochrome images. Methods in this article are for landscapes and static subjects, for moving subjects, street photography etc a different approach is needed.

BACKGROUND

First a little background, going back several years ago, probably like a lot of people do, I looked at my work and wondered why there wasn’t that real life “being there” punch and why did my images not match the vision that I saw with my own eyes, and more importantly how could I address this imbalance and get closer to my artistic intents?

From these three questions and following many years of exploration, testing and taking literally thousands and thousands of images I determined the answers and subsequently developed a holistic system of photography which I call True Light Capture. TLC fundamentally works on a completion backwards principle, in other words I determine what I want as the end result and then put into place all the steps I need along the way to get to that end point, being careful that nothing is done that would compromise the following processes. It sounds technical and perhaps limiting but in fact it is quite the reverse, the methods are now so ingrained for me that I feel free to just concentrate on the creative output.

Today I’m not here to promote that system and in any case I only run the workshops once a year in Australia, but rather I would like to give insight into a couple of contributing techniques that might be of benefit to you when capturing and editing monochrome images.

CAPTURE

First up I firmly hold to the belief that to create a really good quality monochrome images you actually need a truly excellent initial capture in every technical sense. Without colour Monochrome lives and breathes by dint of its detail, texture and tonality, especially tonality. This is not to discount composition of course, and I would regard myself as being very composition driven but even the best composition can be totally brough undone by poor execution.

It is possible to use monochrome conversions to salvage noisy and sometimes poor quality files but that is not a pathway that holds any interest for me, I set out from the very beginning knowing that a mono output is the target, everything is driven be that consideration, I would never convert to monochrome as a salvage option. Such a file would be just discarded as I would feel embarrassed to present it, but perhaps that’s just me.

For my purposes JPEGs are completely useless, in fact I need low contrast RAW files that have full tonal information right into the highlights and shadows unless of course those areas are meant to be pure white or black. I think of it this way, I can always boost contrast and push tones around for artistic effect and interpretation but they have to be rendered in the file in the first place! JPEGs sacrifice an enormous amount of subtlety, especially in highlights and if you hold the highlights back enough via exposure to fully render them then your shadows are toast! JPEGs also have lots of noise reduction cooked in regardless of the camera settings and that sadly just eats the micro detail you need for great textural mono work.

I realize that JPEG quality is somewhat camera brand dependent, and being a Sony user I would never claim they produce great JPEGs, but nonetheless all JPEGs have significant limitations. I often tell students, if your RAW file derived images are not better than your JPEGs it’s either you have not yet reached a stage of being able to truly process them to their maximum capability or the RAW converters are just not up to the task yet for that file type yet. For example I am sure the Raw files from the X series Fuji cameras offer more potential than we are currently seeing, it is just the converters that are the problem and they will undoubtably get better as raw software developers learn to better crack the unusual Fuji RAW files. In any case RAW future proofs you, the converters will continue to improve and thus open up further options for you down the road.

Fully rendered highlights are I feel particularly important because the human eye is not used to seeing bleached or absent detail in highlights unless of course it is a specular highlight, it is that lack of subtle highlight details that helps make images look…… well digital.

Since I am after a certain look, I also choose my lenses accordingly, generally this means high contrast Zeiss style renderings are off the agenda and typically with both my NEX and Sony A series cameras I shoot with low contrast legacy glass.

Some lenses are particularly nice for certain types of monochrome images and fail miserably for others. For example I often use an ancient Minolta 28-85 f3.5-4.5 zoom, it’s a superb lens at the wide-angle end, but only if using the green and blue channels for the final image, it displays amazing clarity and micro detail in the green channel. Should your image however require a channel mix involving the red channel it is far less suitable as the red channel is very poorly resolved, especially in the outer reaches. Go to the long end on the same lens and the blue channel falls apart and the red shines! One needs to know their lenses and importantly where the individual strengths lie for any photography need, but especially for mono work.

One of the biggest impediments to truly successful high quality color to monochrome conversions is image noise. Don’t get me wrong noise can be a really good thing in a monochrome image but it needs to be applied post-production in the areas where you want it, it is definitely not desirable to be fighting noise from the very beginning of the conversion process, it will simply limit every process you try to implement from tonal adjustments right through to sharpening.

I shoot always at the lowest ISO I can get away with, which with the NEX 5N used for these pics is 200 ISO, I prefer 100ISO and there is a significant difference but if I am forced to hand hold, as I was for these images I will trade the higher potential quality off for a sharper capture.

Obtaining the greatest level of exposure without clipping any of those precious highlights is paramount to me, sometimes you will hear this referred to as ETTR, (Expose To The Right) which refers of course to shooting with your exposure set to the right side of the histogram.

ETTR is a little controversial and in any case there is a lot more to it than just going to the right side of the histogram, and I feel those arguing against it often misunderstand how it works and is actually used but the principle is simple enough, the more light you capture the further down the exposure scale your noise will be buried. The optimum setting for exposure to be set at the point where your brightest wanted highlights details just avoid clipping.

Sometimes I take several frames and noise stack to average noise out, sometimes I bracket the exposures, sometimes I even take the same frame at differing ISOs for later blending, there are lots of things one can do but ultimately really low noise in the file coming out of the RAW convertor means far greater post Raw flexibility. It is a beautiful thing to be able to just push tones around without having to worry about banding and rampant noise.

None of the above is radically different to anything a great number of photographers do but there is one other tool in my armory which you may consider is a little bit unusual.  The use of “balanced sensor capture” which forms an integral part of the whole TLC process.

THE PROBLEM

Bear with me please….don’t nod off now.

Fundamentally good colour to monochrome conversions are impeded by differing noise signatures across the three colour channels, normally the green is quite noise free, the red has a greater level of noise and the blue may have quite radically high levels of noise.

With some cameras the red channel maybe the worst with the blue in the middle but the green will always be the best.  The problem is that most channel mixing processes involve mixing the green with some red and some blue or perhaps just green and red or perhaps green and blue etc In all cases you’ll find that the level of noise in the resulting image varies depending upon the donor colour of the items in the original scene. In other words perhaps blue objects may appear far more noisy and less detailed than those objects which were initially green. There will also be differences in the levels of details that are held in the objects once again dependent upon the colour of the initial object.

The root cause of this is that the three colour channels at capture are not actually exposed identically typically the green channel will receive far more exposure than the red or blue.

Without going into full details and there are many, this also means that the red channel and the blue channel will possess less detail in the shadows than the green channel and will clip in the shadows far earlier, likewise the green channel may clip highlights before the red and blue channel and please note: Here we not talking about JPEG images but actual raw file data, that is as they say a horse of an entirely different colour.

If you could actually obtain a close to equal level of exposure across all three channels you would have roughly equivalent noise signatures for each channel making your monochrome conversions far more successful. Well in fact you can do exactly that.

This state of Nirvana is achieved by filtering the light before it reaches the camera sensor, there are no post production methods that will give the same result.

Typically this will mean you need to use a combination of red and magenta filters and this is exactly what I do. As to the exact values they will vary from camera model to model and even with the lens used. The filtration required is quite significant.

The trade-off of course is that the sensor is receiving less light for any given EV value so your exposure times become longer, in effect it’s like shooting at around 16-32 ISO instead of 100 ISO! Hence a tripod or really steady hold is doubly important.

The resulting files are low in contrast and very low on noise which means they are eminently suitable for monochrome conversion.  The most important factor being because the noise signatures are roughly equal across all three channels, channel mixing can be done using almost any combination of mixes, safe in the knowledge that your image will not fall apart due to weird noise signatures in certain donor colours.

A side benefit the images are slightly sharper, probably due to the better quality of the data being fed into the interpolation algorithm at the beginning of the process.  Even more importantly because there is a lower level of noise across the entire image it can withstand far greater and more sophisticated approaches to sharpening than is normal.

Because I’m obviously aiming for a high-quality result I’m very careful about controlling camera movement and shake, picking the exact focus point usually using magnified live view and using an aperture which is optimal for the final DOF that I want. Nothing startling there but take it as a given, this is no off the cuff high-speed street shooter option.

Back at the office the next important step is the conversion of the raw file into a Tiff file. For the ultimate high-end work I choose to use our RPP (Raw Photo Processor) a Mac only converter, but I also use RAW Developer (also Mac only). I adjust RPP to output the files as low contrast 16-bit files without any sharpening or noise reduction. RPP has an option to render files with a film-like tone curve, I use this because it allows an enormous level of flexibility in the post processing.

A cursory glance at the converted RAW files will show just how low in contrast they are, there is no clipping anywhere in the files and a wide amount of tonal wiggle room.

In some cases, mainly with very high contrast scenes I produce multiple conversions of the same RAW file, for example one better attuned to highlight rendering, one for the shadows etc, but in the case of all these example it is just a single conversion.

As mentioned I almost never use any noise reduction in the conversion process regardless of the converter used, this is handled later and very selectively in Photoshop should I need it, In reality I almost never need to apply any noise reduction at all except perhaps to clear cyan/blue skies, which are always a problem in any type of photography. It is in fact quite amazing how much more detailed a monochrome image can be if no noise reduction was applied anywhere in the early processes and when you do apply NR it often makes the noise look worse, clumping fine film like noise into dirty great gobs. Trust me what matters is the final look of the print output, and way too much noise reduction is aimed at making 100% on-screen views look smooth as silk, I suspect so people can brag on photo web forums about their latest wonder cam. Noise is not the enemy! and a 100% on-screen view is not a useable way to display a photo.

EDITING

This next point which might be a bit challenging for those looking for an easy pre-potted solution, is I firmly believe that for high-quality monochrome conversions there is zero possibility of using automated processes. Every image is different and needs to be treated as such.

I need constantly changing combinations of channel mixing, and other mono conversion methods, local and wide area tone curve variations and much more. It simply defies my experience that you can automate any of it to even a moderate degree and get truly high end custom results. And I didn’t even touch on sharpening, which most definitely cannot be global in nature.

SierraPebblesorig

Upon opening the resulting file in Photoshop, which starts as  a 16 bit Lab mode file I make an initial levels adjustment to the L Channel being very careful to keep all the highlight gradation with a bit of headroom to allow for the printing needs and increase the colour saturation by adding equal levels of contrast to the A and B channels. Once the file looks OK I convert it to RGB mode but leave it in 16 bit.

Continuing on I make several duplicate copies of the file, usually five, maybe more. Each of these copies are treated differently, one copy may be converted from colour to monochrome using a gradient map, another simply desaturated, yet another may be converted using a combination of red and green channel mixes and so on. There is no limit to the possible combinations that I would use and sometimes that includes oddballs like infra-red simulations for some parts of the image.

seirrapebblesweb

I keep one open version of the full-colour image, this can later be it used to make further mono versions if I need to, and usually I edit the colour one at the same time as the monochrome versions.  Additionally I may use this with Photoshops’ black and white conversion option.

Having created my multiple mono versions I have Photoshop arrange them by “floating all in windows” which means I can see each version side-by-side.  I then closely examine each version deciding on which parts I wish to use from each and decide on which version will form the best core image to work from.

sierrapebblesmonoweb

The composited full range tonal version is obtained by copying and pasting different versions of image over the top of one another and using the eraser tool to reveal the pieces that I want to keep each of the underlying layers, this gives me absolute flexibility over how the tonal range is rendered for every part in the image. and with practice I am able to do this quite quickly.

FINE TUNING

Having flattened the monochrome image to a single layer I’m still nowhere near finished, it requires localized dodging and burning and tone curve adjustments, sharpening and to a certain degree blurring.

A great deal of this step is aimed at giving a closer simulation of how our eyes perceive things in landscapes due to atmospheric factors, for example distant objects appear lower in contrast and lighter, close up objects are often higher in contrast and show deeper detail in the really dark tones, mid range objects rarely show full black, but have only a slightly flattened tonal range compared to the foreground. I’ve literally spent sleepless nights thinking about these factors and hours and hours looking at scenes in real life and questioning myself on what I was really seeing. Most painters understand this stuff intuitively almost but most cameras totally overcook all this.

stumporig

Sharpening is normally carried out on a localized basis I do not apply any global sharpening and I apply differing degrees of sharpening depending upon the objects in the photo and where they are placed in relation to the plane of focus.

The sharpening methods include USM, High Pass and even Gaussian Blur with custom fade modes (yes I know that one sounds odd). The radiuses used range from 60 pixels down to even 0.2 pixels. Its complicated, heck it would take a book to explain and again it definitely defies any method of automation.

Much of the sharpening is aimed towards creating a more 3D look, but it is a long way from the more, now traditional HDR look which generally is quite forced and global in nature.

The flip side of sharpening is that in a lot of cases I apply lens blur to certain parts of the image to give greater separation and the appearance of having shot at a wider aperture. In fact my general principle is to shoot with an aperture that is just slightly smaller than I would optimally like to use for the required depth of field, this gives me more flexibility in terms of setting precise focus and DOF look in post-production.

stumpcol

An added benefit of finalizing the DOF in post is that you can get effects that would not be possible with regular aperture adjustment of DOF, for example you can simulate field curvature etc. It must be added that DOF adjustment is not particularly easy and care needs to be taken not to overdo things, often in conjunction with masking but well done in tandem with a sensible shooting aperture choice it can be seamless in final appearance.

I personally have a bit of an issue with the current trend for ultra shallow DOF shot with really fast lenses, whilst it might look interesting and all for web images, most times the images lack sufficient clarity and DOF for real world “on the wall” printed use. There is a vast difference between a 600 by 400 px image on-screen or in flikr and a 16 by 20 inch print, but each to his own, if you shoot solely for web use then go as wide as you like.

Ultimately I can take detail away, but I sure as hell can’t create it afterwards if it is lacking and since for me many shots are a once in a lifetime opportunities taken when traveling, I’d just rather not throw all caution the winds with ultra shallow DOF recordings of the scenes.

Once all the tones are finalized, final DOF is set, dodging and burning done and sharpening sorted I have one final thing to do. Add the noise!

Normally I don’t just add noise globally, rather it is added subtly to parts of the image to either increase micro tonality or synthesize detail, in fact in many ways you can think of “noising” as part of the sharpening process.

stumpmono

I am not normally adding noise to simulate film noise….if I wanted that look I would and often do shoot film. No the noise done properly gives the printed image (note, the use of the term printed) a more organic 3D look. This will rarely be obvious on the computer monitor because the pixels of the screen tend to alias the noise dependent upon the screen view, downsizing the image won’t give much of an idea either, ultimately I have to make test prints to verify the result. “Noising” is again usually done via layers and the use of the eraser tool, and again it is almost the subject of a book in itself.

Once the monochrome image is finished I usually copy the flattened monochrome image and place it over the top of the original colour image then choose luminosity mode for the top monochrome layer. The resulting rendering represents the detail and tonality from the mono image mixed only with the chrominance info from the colour image, and usually results, to my eyes at least, in a much better colour version of the photo. I normally then make further adjustments to the colour image but that is the subject of another installment.

PRINTING

And finally the printing, I don’t even attempt to do this myself, despite being capable of doing so, it’s simple really. I don’t have the room for a high-end large format printer and I don’t have the throughput to justify the prodigious expense.

Instead I use a local company who know and appreciate exactly what I am trying to achieve, we have a great working relationship. I have them run some strip tests to ensure everything looks right and of course adjust it if it doesn’t. They do not make any adjustments to the file unless under the watch of my eye.

The prints are made on only a limited array of substrates which we know will work as intended.

Ultimately with printing it is not about the price but the quality, for my part I’d rather spend more knowing that the result will be great than have to worry about the outcome by saving a few dollars working with someone who doesn’t care.

THE WRAP UP

So there you have it, an anatomical look at one approach to monochrome, my approach. Don’t for a moment think I am advocating that this is what others should do, I have offered this to perhaps inspire those who are wanting a bit more from their images, pick and choose as you wish.

Best be a little realistic here, before going off all excited consider that neither you or I are going to whip up a whole batch of these cookies in one afternoons sitting. Most images take me 5 hours or more spread over a few sittings, but then I am not into posting stuff on flickr etc, prints on walls it where it’s at for me so I don’t really need to do stuff quickly.

canyonedgeorig

Probably one thing you would glean from my approach is that it is designed to work only with colour as the original capture method, personally I could never find happiness with a monochrome only camera, much as I really like the idea of the Leica Monochrom it would be just to limiting for my way of working, though I know there would be benefits.

canyonedge col

The photos I have included in the article show the original colour extracted TIFF image (in compressed jpeg form of course), the Monchrome version and the Monochrome over Colour info version. I think you will agree that the final colour version is quite lovely as well. It’s a funny thing but often a good colour image and a good mono image are much the same thing!

canyonedge mono

These images were captured with a Sony NEX 5N using legacy class, for these ones it was a Nikon 35-70mm f3.3-5.5 zoom and 55mm f2.8 micro nikkor with TLC pre-filtering. All are shot at 200ISO and around 1/100 sec. Being compressed web images of course it is a bit hard to judge the full effect, but they print superbly I promise.

 

Nov 112012
 

Using a DSLR to scan Negative film by Stefan Schmidt

Hi again folks! This is a follow-up article about how I’m using my Canon Eos 5D MkII to shoot backlit slides instead of using an ordinary flatbed scanner. (See previous article HERE) Now I will show you how I go about “scanning” my negative films using the film holder from the flatbed scanner and the light box I nailed together. Shooting the negatives is only half of the story though, the second half is actually developing the negatives to positive pictures and getting a decent result in the end. I have experimented a lot and I will share my workflow with you. That being said, I do not guarantee that my way is the “right” way. I just hope to get you all going!

The Rig:

For those of you who did not read my first article, here is a picture to show you my setup. I have a piece of MDF-board with a slide-projector at one end, a lamp-cover act as a diffuser and finally I have my “box” with the glass from an A4-photoframe inserted into it. In the lower left corner of the picture I have included an image of how the box look when I shoot slides. The white elastic band that is used to keep the slides from falling off the wooden strip is not used when shooting negatives, I just pull it down under the strip.

I use the same settings as for slides, ISO 320 , halogen light WB, Aperture priority and I set the aperture to 4,5. Finally I use a 2 second self-timer and after each shot I have a 2 sec preview. If the negatives have really high contrast like flash-exposures I venture into the menu and reduce contrast but typically I have all settings in there set to neutral. You may notice that I have a lot of small wooden strips and what not under my camera in this shot. That is because my box was designed (yes it’s ugly as hell but I use that word anyway) to be used for slides. The frame holding the negatives are wider in all directions and that makes the negatives end up higher than the slides. That is also why I needed to put a higher piece of wood behind the camera to keep it aligned. Finally I also put some of these strips of wood under the MDF-board in order to raise the end where I sit shooting just a little bit. This way the large film-holder will not topple down on the lens hood. Keep it simple.

You shot the negatives, now it’s time to enter the darkroom and get developing!

Let’s start with Photoshop. I myself use CS5 and by now you will have lots of pictures looking like this in bridge:

When I open a picture the RAW-converter will start. Before I choose to open the picture in photoshop I look at the histogram to see if there is a “burnout” in the black or white end of it. If there is I use exposure to adjust the curves to my liking. I also want the RGB curves to stretch out over as much of the Histogram as possible and I choose this setting for the picture in this example:

When the picture is opened it will still be negative. Press Ctrl + I to invert it (or CMD + I on a mac) and do not panic when it looks like crap! The colors are way out of sync. It will look something like this:

To start fixing this I usually add an adjustment layer with levels in the adjustments tab on the right. Clicking on the adjustment layer open up the ADJUSTMENTS panel and as standard it allows you to set levels for all three RGB-colors at once. Now however, you do not want to do that. You will need to click on the drop down menu and set the levels for Red Green and Blue.

Photoshop has an advantage over Capture one in that it seem to be programmed to “sync” the color-channels and that enables you to get a fairly good result pretty quickly. In the screenshot below you can see an estimation of how the picture is turning out better and better as I go through the channels and trim their levels. At the far left of the image is the altogether blue picture that looks just terrible after I inverted the negative. Notice how tuning each channel increase the quality of the picture. When the final, blue, channel is adjusted the far right of the picture looks pretty natural and we are on our way to get a nice picture.

Please also notice that by moving the middle “handle” under each channels diagram you can fine-tune the color balance of each channel. Now all that remains are repairing the scratches that is evident from the film itself, cropping and maybe reducing some noise with the filter “Despeckle”. Of course this can be tedious to do with each picture, that’s why I try it out on one picture and when I’m satisfied I go to the HISTORY-panel and click on the top action that is opening the picture. Then I click the ACTIONS tab and in that panel I click the icon next to the waste bin to “Create a new action”. I name the macro I’m about to record “Kodak negatives 100 iso”, for example, and redo the steps above on the channels adding the despeckle-filter and maybe even the crop. When I’m finished I stop recording, load up another set of pictures and apply the macro onto each of them. That saves a ton of work!

As different films have a different character and base color I have built myself a small library of actions for different brands and iso. Very handy to have.

In this example I had a small blue tone that was hard to get rid of, I finally solved that by adding a warm standard photo filter on a new adjustment layer and that hit the spot! I am mostly using levels but there is an adjustment layer using curves and that works just as well but I had to choose what I believe to be the easiest way to go about this for the article. I would also like to point out that Photoshop remembers that there is a negative picture as a foundation for the final picture and many tools can go haywire. In those cases, save your picture as a TIFF and load that copy into Photoshop again and you will be all set. No more misbehavior.

Developing negatives using Capture One

I’m not going to cover this in detail as the general idea is the same, I open my picture and after inverting it I begin to work the channels the same way as in Photoshop. (That is partly why I showed that method.) The trick is to invert the picture as Capture One Pro do not have a command or tool for it. I do this by going to the level-tool:

I then pull the black handle to the right and the white handle to the left and the picture is inverted! I am pretty sure you can do the same thing in lightroom but I have not tried it. Your levels-tool will now look like this:

Now you’re ready to work those individual Red Green and Blue channels in the levels-tool. Please note that Capture One really turns on it’s head a little when working with negatives like this. After inverting the picture all controls for adjusting light or color is inverted as well. For example, if you increase the light in the image it will turn darker! Just as it does in an old-school darkroom. The more you exposed the photo paper, the darker it got when it was developed. Call me crazy but I actually get a little nostalgic when my computer all of a sudden behaves like my old analog darkroom. (Except for the smell.)

Some of you will not enjoy this ;) and will therefore be better off by saving your picture as a TIFF as I mentioned above. When you work on that TIFF you will have no problem.

I create development recipes to apply on many pictures in Capture One and they make batch-developing a bunch of images super easy.

Examples of developed pictures from negatives.

As my article comes to an end I would like to show you a few pictures I developed from my negatives.

 

 That’s me in the middle of the picture above, it was taken 1988 in the Swedish alps. Below is a picture of my wife from around the same time. Kodak film above, Agfa below.

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This is shot in Halle Hunneberg in 1989 just before sunset. I was there looking for elk but I did not see any. The film is 200 iso kodak and the negative was somewhat underexposed.

If you have read this far I salute you! Well done! i realize this article got a bit long however I tried to shorten it. I hope this will inspire you people out there to dig out your old favorite negatives and give it a go yourself!

With my best regards

Stefan Schmidt

 

 

Dec 272011
 

For the newbies…RAW vs JPEG – Fixing your photo in under one minute!

So Christmas morning you woke up to find a shiny new digital camera under the tree. Ahhhh! Just what you wanted! You already took it out to shoot and maybe realized that your images look flat, washed out, or even really dull. This has happened as I received no less than 6 questions about this yesterday! All from people just getting started with photography and they were not too thrilled with their cameras output after viewing their results. If this sounds like you, then keep reading as there is a quick and easy way to improve the look of your pics!

I was at the Zoo yesterday and saw approximately 16 teenagers walking around with cameras they obviously received for X-mas. 90% were DSLR’s which were obviously sold to their parents by some Best Buy employee who told them THE hottest camera to get was a Canon Rebel. The Rebel is a good camera, don’t get me wrong, but if I were working at the best buy I would be pointing people to other choices. Regardless of that, as I already mentioned above,  I received a few e-mails in the past 24 hours asking me why photos come out looking flat, so this is in response to those e-mails.

Basically, for the newbies who are shooting their cameras in JPEG mode, turn it to RAW or RAW + JPEG. This way you can adjust your image settings after you take the photo. Now I know that 99.6% of the readers here already know this but believe it or not, there are quite a few who come here via google who have no idea what RAW even is. So THIS is for them!

I will keep it simple. I made a video that explains how you can take your flat dull lifeless photo and enhance it in about one minute just by adjusting your RAW file. Now most people who just bought a shiny new camera may not have Photoshop or Lightroom, but the tips in the following video will work with almost any RAW software. Usually, there is RAW software included with your camera. :)

I have included the two photos from the video below, under the video. Enjoy!

 

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The files use in the video above:

BEFORE – OUT OF CAMERA JPEG – PANASONIC GX1 – 25 1.4

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AFTER – Shot RAW and after a one minute adjustment

May 022011
 

Had a few requests for a video on how I processed the truck image from the X100 so here you go! Very quick, very easy! It came out a bit different than the original but I spent less time on this one. Same steps though. Enjoy! If you want to check out Alien Skin Exposure 3, you can download a free Demo HERE.

Oct 292010
 

Bokeh. An interesting word. What does it mean? Most of you reading this web site already know what it means, but many of you have no clue. Many newbies read this site and I get e-mails almost daily asking me questions like

  • What is Bokeh?
  • What is Aperture?
  • How can I take a good picture?

I get these questions on an almost daily basis along with many others because every day there are new people who are just getting into photography who find this site. Today I am writing a bit about “Bokeh”. What exactly does that term mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it is NOT the word used to describe the actual blurring of the background in a photo. Bokeh is the term used to describe the QUALITY of that background blur in a photo.

From Wikipeida: bokeh (pronounced /boʊ’kɛ/) is the blur,[1][2] or the aesthetic quality of the blur,[3][4][5] in out-of-focus areas of an image, or “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.

I know many photographers who obsess with the Bokeh qualities of a lens while others just see blur and think it’s cool. One of the reasons I love Leica lenses is because I find they create some of the most pleasing Bokeh compared to Nikon, Canon or whoever. Leica glass is expensive but unique in the fact that it will give your images that something special that is not apparent when using other glass. Canon and Nikon have some great glass like the Canon 85 1.2, or the new Nikon 85 1.4 that will create beautiful Bokeh but even those lenses are pricey and too expensive for many of us. In Bokeh land, I believe that Leica is king and the fact that their lenses are so tiny in comparison to Nikon or Canon is what also seals the deal for me. Sure there are cheap Canon and Nikon lenses that will give you shallow Depth of Field but many times the bokeh qualities of many of these lenses are headache inducing.

So how do we get smooth pleasing bokeh without breaking the bank? I remember a while ago seeing a software plug in for Photoshop that recreated the Bokeh of lenses artificially and I remember saying to myself “What a joke!- No way software can replace the qualities of a lens”. I refused to even try it because to me, I knew there would be no way it would look good or natural.

Fast forward to 3 days ago…I was invited by Alien Skin to try out their new and improved “Bokeh 2″ plug in software and decided to give it a try to see what it was all about.

So I downloaded the plug in and started messing with it in Photoshop CS5. At first, I had NO IDEA how to use it as I did not read the manual yet so I just browsed the presets and chose the “Canon 85 1.2 at 1.2″ setting. I used a D-Lux 5 image and as most of you know, getting shallow depth of field from a small sensor camera is very hard, and in some cases impossible so this image really did not have that creamy, dreamy look like I would have gotten from say a Canon 5DII and 85 1.2L. It was the perfect test image..to see if I can take a portrait taken with a small sensor camera and make it look like it was taken with a super fast lens wide open. Here is the result, my 1st try with Bokeh 2 and it took 4 seconds.

As you can see from the above image, it is a bit over the top because i used the 85L 1.2 setting which gives super creamy and dreamy Bokeh. I used to shoot with the 85L and its Bokeh was VERY smooth and dreamlike at 1.2. It is my favorite Canon lens. Period. I can not say this preset recreated the depth of field the 85 would have given me, but the artificially created Bokeh looks pretty similar to the real deal. Very smooth, very creamy and dreamlike. This got me to thinking…I mean, anyone can take a flat image from a small sensor camera and create fake Bokeh giving their image a unique look. How unique can you get? How about this one…

ABOVE: I shot this image outside of my car wiindow while driving. Was testing the fast AF of the Sony A33 and saw the bird and raised  the camera and it INSTANTLY focused and took the shot. The image above was treated in Bokeh 2 using the 500mm Mirror Lens preset. I also used a film preset in Exposure 2 to give the color a bump. The original looks quite different…

You can see how Bokeh 2 can give your images a unique and surreal look. Some may like this look and some may HATE it but I have to admit it is quite fun to mess around with. You can go right with the presets or you can customize to your hearts desire. It is easy to go a bit over the top (like I did) so be careful…

Here are a few more images that I gave the BOKEH 2 treatment with. Fun stuff. If you want to give it a try yourself, and have photoshop or lightroom you can download the free demo HERE directly from Alien Skin. It may not be everyones cup of tea but I know if I had only a small sensor cam I would have it in my plug in folder to use on those images that need a little BOKEH BOOST! Another very cool plug in from the guys at Alien Skin.

ABOVE: Using one of the presets in the MOTION category I was able to take a flat photo and turn it in to one that conveys the sense of motion. Worked very well.

Another BEFORE and AFTER…

and more….

Jun 192010
 

Today I want to welcome Martin Herrera who submitted his first guest article about his travels to Havana with his Leica M9, 35 Lux and his iPad. Hope you enjoy it! Thanks Martin!


Three days in Havana

The travel tale of an M9, 35 lux and post processing on an iPad

By Martin Herrera Soler | Web site: www.martinhsphoto.com

Father and son in the Havana Malecon in the late afternoon. In this hot environment, this is a great place to be, and always a hot spot to socialise and people watch (Leica M9 with a 35mm Summilux lens. JPEG image post processed in the iPad using Photogene application).

Due to a rare coincidence of events, I was able to take a few days after working in Guatemala, to jump on a plane and spend 3 days in Havana. To top this, I was able to coincide it with the arrival of my M9 and my recently acquired iPad.

On the past, I have generally traveled without a notebook and simply carried and external drive with a card reader slot to off load my images. This time I wanted to have the experience of reviewing my work while on location, and yet have a very portable, light solution.

My gear consisted of the Leica M9, a 35mm Summilux, a 75mm Summicron, an iPad 64GB with the camera kit for it, and Lowepro Classified 160 to carry it all.

Eusebio taking a break. He is responsible of cleaning and maintaining the church of San Francisco de Asis. A quick scan of the map of Old Havana, will show you that there are at least 30 churches in a town than has few square kilometers. [Leica M9 with a 35mm Summilux lens. JPEG image post processed in the iPad using Photogene application]

Let me start by saying that the M9 has been a blessing to my photography, and I have fallen in love with the angle of view that the 35 produces on the full frame. I’ve been used to shooting with a 24 and 50 on my Canon system. Never could I have expected that a single lens would so effectively solve my shooting needs. I have become a 35 convert. As a matter of fact, here goes my first learning. I shot no more than 3 images with the 75, and I enjoyed so much the freedom of only having to carry the camera around my shoulder and the extra memories and battery on my shorts pocket. This light approach allowed me to leave behind the camera bag, comfortably walk over ten hours a day, and really focus on the task at hand – reaching out and getting close to people on the streets of Havana.

Boat to Regla. Right across the bay, facing the Old Havana port, it’s the fishermen town of Regla. There is a very simple boat that crosses people over several times per day. It’s an opportunity to experience a more ‘local’ and genuine Cuba, further from the tourists and it’s infrastructure. [Leica M9 with a 35mm Summilux lens. JPEG image post processed in the iPad using Photogene application]

As for the 75, don’t get me wrong, I love the lens, and it’s been wonderful on the M9 (I used to have it with an M8). It’s quite likely that these two lenses will do for me (even though if I am to learn from past experience, I might get tempted in the future with a 50 – yet I am loving the simplicity of having an all around lens and a especialty lens).

I put the camera to the test on many different lighting situations. Very early, low light, strong harsh mid day contrast, as well as low light late at night. It’s a superb camera, and I feel it’s much better than the M8. I have no scientific evidence to sustain my prior comment, it’s just a feeling, perhaps having to do with the fact that on this trip it all came together with the M9, and I reached a new level on handling my rangefinder, the M8 paying the price of the learning curve.

Then it’s the size and portability. I literally walked over ten hours per day, and carrying only the camera, I never even felt the weight. This in itself it’s such a stark contrast to traveling with an SLR system. I traveled India and Nepal with a camera backpack that was so bulky and heavy, that it’s hard to conceive in the light of this new experience.

Used to shooting with the equivalent of a 50mm in the M8, I had to get closer with the 35 in order to create the experience I was after. Rarely did I get anyone to react in a bad way to the camera, very different than when I used to take out my huge camera body and lens. I have the sense that this camera, with this look, it simply does not register in peoples’ mental radar. Even when they were fully aware of me shooting – for example when I managed access into people’s home – there was a quality to our interaction, an spontaneity that I was simple not used to getting in my SLR life.

Alcides is just another of the many Cubans wholove to fish. He fises every day, from sunset to dusk. [Leica M9 with a 35mm Summilux lens. JPEG image post processed in the iPad using Photogene application]

Perhaps the most important aspect of all, is that I simply love to shoot with this camera. Since I got in the rangefinder world with the M8 (about twelve months ago), I find it harder and harder to shoot with my SLR. I cannot quite pinpoint why or what’s going on, but I am just not compelled to grab it. I already sold one of the bodies and several lenses to upgrade to the M9, and wonder if the time will come when I no longer have one (knowing that the rangefinder it’s not designed and and does not perform well for every use).

Then came the experience with the camera bag. As much as I like this bag on an every day basis, I had never used it and tested it for such extended period of time. Learning number two, a shoulder camera does not do it for me when it comes to walking long hours. I wear it across my shoulder, and by the end of the day I would have so much tension, that would result in a headache. It’s true that this particular bag it’s a bit on the heavy side, as well as it has in my opinion unnecessary bulk on the outside pocket. Yet I am leaning towards changing approach for the future. I’ve been looking for a while at the Think Tank Change Up. Seems to be a pretty versatile bag, that works both as a shoulder bag, or you can flip out the waist belt and use it around your waist, or used the combination of both and share the load between your waist and shoulders. Size wise seems to be large enough to carry my Leica and perhaps one to two lenses, but not too bulky or large that will be heavy by days end. If anyone out there in the Leica community has tried it, I would love to hear from you.

And finally the iPad. In a nutshell, and amazing companion for the travel photographer! My self, I don’t like to travel with the notebook, perhaps because it reminds me too much at my corporate travels, so leaving the notebook behind makes me connect deeper with the photographic experience. Also, I dislike the sheer weight and size of a notebook to be carrying it around while traveling – specially when my travel involves moving around often. On the other hand, that usually meant not seeing my images until I get back and have time to process them. This setup, even though not the perfect experience, was a great step forward.

A lot has been written already about the iPad and photography, so ill keep this far from a review and much closer to a summary of my own experience. The import with the camera kit works fairly well. I found that I had to limit the amount of images I would import at once, otherwise the application would crash. Beyond that, there is not a great level of flexibility in the application to move around and organize your work, but certainly enough to get by. I shot RAW + JPG, since I wanted to preview in black and white in camera. I was not able to separate the two files at import, meaning I had to work with the JPG instead of the RAW when I had both of them (not sure if this is possible, but I was unable to do it). For those images I shot in color, (only RAW) the iPad handled the file perfectly. This meant that I had to work off JPGs in most of the cases.

To process the images I used Photogene. I found the application to be great. Even though it seriously lacks functionality compared to a desktop based application, it did what I needed to create good enough work on site. Not sure if you could get by as a solution to mail back work for a publication. Probably more testing would have to be done with the RAW files processing. But sure it was a great way to preview my work, select the images that were keepers and identify areas of opportunity for the next day’s work.

Encarnito it’s a character I met as I was walking down Obrapía. I picked through the window and liked the picture. He invited me in, and we talked for a long time. He fought in the second squadron during the revolution, under Raúl Castro. [Leica M9 with a 35mm Summilux lens. JPEG image post processed in the iPad using Photogene application]

The experience of seeing the images on this device it’s fantastic! Beyond the amazing screen, there is something about the size and the form factor, that somehow resembles well the experience of ‘holding’ the image in your hand. It was very gratifying to be able to preview my work on the field, and know from one day to the next how I was doing and where I needed to focus. On top of this, the tablet form factor allowed me to process my work without having to have a desk and a more formal setup, which worked great in the kind of conditions I was traveling.

If you want to see the actual images, processed in Aperture and Silver Efex Pro, check them out in here.

Martin Herrera Soler | www.martinhsphoto.com

Feb 162010
 

Film…it’s simple…and beautiful!

By Max Marinucci

First of all, I want to pile on and say that Steve is doing a great job here and we should offer our support for such informative, no bull site. Photography is fun and weʼre here to enjoy it and get inspired without worrying about chromatic aberrations and lens sharpness. Again, thank you Steve for putting so much time and effort into this. (From Steve: Thanks so much!!)

I have written this article for those who want to take some time away from digital photography or simply want to get back to basics for a bit and have never considered or experienced shooting black & white film.

For many who have grown up with nothing but digital photography and files, the notion of black & white film feels like some foreign relic which may be nice to look at but have no idea on how it was produced and if it can be replicated today. This article is for those who may be interested in discovering (or re-discovering) the simplicity and beauty of black and white film and are willing to spend a little time engaging in something that will not give instant gratification. Before I go on, let me extrapolate a bit on this point: instant gratification. We have become the society of NOW, where waiting for something just doesnʼt seem acceptable. If we take a picture, we want to see it NOW on the back of our camera, on the LCD screen. It sucks…well, letʼs take another one, and another, and another. While this is the norm these days, patience and parsimony are virtues to be cultivated and nourished. When shooting film, you immediately accept the fact that it may be a little while before you see the fruits of your work and, by living with this, you will become more disciplined which will in turn carry on to your digital shooting as well It also means that shooting everything in sight without any thought into basics like light and composition is out of the question since you only have 24-36 shots in a roll of 35mm and it makes no sense in spending time/money developing thoughtless junk. This is a valuable exercise in restraint and it brings us to actually THINK before we shoot. Would you have taken a picture of your toes with film just because you can? I sincerely doubt it. I personally have become a better photographer by shooting film because again, when I do, I pay more attention to details, and, since time is money I donʼt want to waste either by developing and scanning too many duds.

So, you may ask, why do you need to shoot black & white film anyway? Well, first of all, film still looks better (in my book at least) and second, you may start enjoying photography again in all its glory. I use Leica gear and enjoy my digital M9 but, there have been instances when I have shot the same picture with film and it very often blows the digital away. Even with today’s advanced technology, it is very difficult to reproduce the look of film in digi-world. Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro does a great job converting to b&w but the picture still looks, well..digital. Film still has that extra latitude and dimension that makes it unique and special. I will not get too technical here because I want every novice to understand the process and be enticed by the small challenges, be excited about producing something unique while having a feeling of satisfaction, not frustration, at the end.

You will probably not be able to reproduce the works of Ansel Adams (no one can) but certainly use those as your inspiration and take comfort in knowing that such beautiful masterpieces were taken with now ancient equipment, film, and most of all, an thorough understanding of nature, light and composition (yes, along with lots of technical stuff as well). There is a deep sense of pride that comes into play when one catches that moment, nails the exposure and develops a good negative which can bring life to a special picture. The process, the anticipation, the fact that YOU are in control (not your camera or digital software) will bring forth a sense of accomplishment that, in todayʼs digital world, we now rarely get to savor.

Before I go on, let me explain that what I have outlined below is a “hybrid” system designed to work well in today’s digitally oriented world and it will bring outstanding results once you have mastered a few steps. As Ansel Adams’ famous quote goes ” the negative is the composer’s score and the print is the performance”. But, few these days will go through the trouble of darkroom printing, which requires time and dedication (oh yes, and a good amount of talent). So, what do we do with the negative? Well, if you are just taking pictures of your kids or casual snapshots, you can just bring them to your local lab and get prints within one hour. They will probably look okay. Now, if you are getting a little more serious and want more creative control, today’s digi-world let’s us do what one would do in a darkroom but on a computer screen. To keep it simple, you need a good scanner (I use the Epson 750V Pro) and Adobe Lightroom (yes, you can use Photoshop if that’s what you like and you’re familiar with, but in the interest of keeping this SIMPLE and for someone just starting out, Lightroom is THE ONE). The new version of Aperture is also great and these, unlike Photoshop, do a fine job at keeping things simple and well organized. Also, most of us today look at pictures on computer screens, iPhone, etc so most never actually get printed. The following system will easily let you upload your favorite b&w film pictures onto Flickr, Zenfolio, etc with great output quality.

Please note, everything written below refers to 35mm film.

Film: you have choices.

As always, photographers (like musicians) get bogged down by too much gear and too many choices. It’s okay to try different films and you will eventually choose different ones for different situations or looks. Having said that, for now, try to find a favorite and stick to it. By doing so, you will achieve some consistency, results you can predict and, more so, repeat. It’s okay to experiment but only when you have mastered the task at hand and you know what you’re doing. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades, master of none.

Film Speed: faster is not always better, just different.

If you start looking on the internet, you will once again be bombarded with tons of information. Much is useful but it may also confuse you and prevent you from starting out without getting extremely frustrated and, ultimately, give up. Every film has an ISO rating on the box. Shoot it at that speed. More on this later but let’s just leave it at that. Now, generally speaking, slower film (50-100-125) will give you tighter grain (or close to none in the case of Kodak T-Max100). As speed goes up (400, 800, 1600, 3200) grain will increase noticeably (also your choice of developer will

determine that but again we want to keep things simple so we will not dig into this one at the moment).

Camera: it does not matter!

When it comes to shooting film, you have so many choices and many of them dirt cheap these days. Frankly, your choice of camera may be possibly dictated more by the lenses. I love Leica because of its simplicity, timeless design, ruggedness, and most of all, lenses. You can buy a good M3 for less than the price of a new digital pocket camera and use lenses made all the way to the 1930s. If you shop eBay, you can get a nice M3 with a 50mm Summitar for about $1500. The Contax G2 system is another winner with Zeiss lenses. Nikon also made some great film cameras and the Zeiss Ikon is also just fine. Having said that, I am partial to Leica because it is SIMPLE. There is only one adjustment knob on an M3 (or a modern M7 as a matter of fact) and that is shutter speed. You will not get bogged down by dials, knobs, menus or tons of useless junk designed only to sell the newest and greatest without respect for a user who demands simplicity and just wants to shoot without getting his/her brain cluttered with junk. Trust me, the less you have to think about camera settings, the better off you will be.

Filters:

With black and white film you need them for some creative work. On a beautiful day, with sun and clouds, without a filter you will get little separation between the sky and clouds so you want to add a yellow filter (light or medium) or red to dramatize those skies even more. Yellow or green are also essential for skin tones when shooting outdoor.

Do you need a darkroom? NO!

Unless you are willing to do your own optical printing with an enlarger, no you do not need a darkroom. You can get a simple setup to develop your negatives with little money and use your laundry room, kitchen, bathroom to develop. B&H sells black changing bags and the few other supplies you need to successfully develop your roll of film. You will basically need:

Black changing bag to load your roll into the tank

A Paterson plastic tank (single roll is fine to start with) as these are much easier to load than metal ones. (can be found at B&H Photo)

A film retriever (to get the lead out of the exposed roll) Graduated containers to mix your chemicals Developer Fixer (can be found at B&H Photo)

Wetting agent (B&H Photo)

Film Clips (B&H Photo)

A sponge squegee (B&H Photo)

Thermometer (B&H Photo)

A cheap baby medicine syringe to measure developers to be used straight such as HC110 or Rodinal.

The Steps are simple

Load film into tank, developer, stop bath (to stop the action of developer), fixer, wash, hang to dry. That’s it. Basically, two chemicals, as I use a water stop bath to be gentle to my precious film which doesn’t need an acid environment to stop development.

Developer

Again here we have a bunch of choices. Photographers have their favorites with certain films and we donʼt want to turn this into a complex subject. We want to keep this simple and to give consistent, repeatable results. Enter Kodak HC110. It was good enough for Ansel Adams, it’s good enough for all of us. It comes in syrup, can be mixed straight from concentrate and has great shelf life. HC110 can be diluted in a few different ratios but again we won’t confuse anyone with that here. Let’s just say that DILUTION B (1 ml of syrup for 32ml of water) works for everyone. So, for a single roll Paterson tank, you squeeze 9ml of syrup (with those plastic baby syringes you can get at your local pharmacy) and mix with 281 ml of water to make your 10oz (290 ml).

Fixer - Ilford Rapid Fixer. Mix 72ml of fixer and the rest water to make 10oz.

Temperature: you can use tap water but I say DON’T. I use a gallon jug of Poland Spring distilled water for each roll of film developed. I use 68 (20c) temperature so you will probably need to put the jug into a water bath and bring it to temperature. With black & white, temperature is not as critical as with color but you still want to get and stay very close. Very important.

Real World Example:

One of my favorite films is Ilford FP4+ (iso 125). At this speed, you can comfortably shoot outside in daylight, with or without filters. Developed with HC110 it gives great tones, grain, and it scans real well.

Developed in HC110 Dilution B, I use 9 minutes developing time at 68 (20c) degrees.

Using your film retriever, take the lead out of the roll and cut it straight with a pair of scissors. Put your tank, roll and scissors into your black changing bag and zipper up!

Load your roll into the spool (practice with a roll in daylight just to get the hang of it first) in the black changing bag. Make sure you have closed the tank and take everything out.

With a timer (I use an iPod touch and Digitaltruth massive development chart app) pour the developer into the tank and immediately start the countdown. Close the tank as quickly as you can and perform 4 slow and gentle inversions followed by two-three firm taps on tour table surface to dislodge any air bubbles. From this point on, you will perform 3 slow and gentle inversions at the start of each minute and one single inversion at the 8 minute mark. Again, two firm taps on the tabletop after each inversion cycle.

Start pouring your developer out five seconds before the time expires and then pour your distilled water stop bath. Agitate (invert) continuously for one minute. Pour the water out and now dump the fixer into the tank. Four inversions the first 10 seconds and the same at the start of each minute thereafter for a total of four minutes.

Washing process: dump the fixer out and fill with 10oz of water. Agitate/ invert five times. Pour water out, fill again and agitate 10 times. Pour out again, fill and agitate 20 times. Repeat this last step two more times, as you want to remove every trace of fixer. Some people use hydro clear prior to this washing method which is intended to cut washing time from a normal ten minute rinse. I have done this with and without hydro clear and I have found no difference, for whatever it’s worth. Dump the last round and fill with another 10oz of water plus 1-2 drop of wetting agent (this will prevent water from drying on the negs and create water spots) and agitate for one minute. Dump this out and take the roll out of the tank. You could also use tap water (make sure you can get it a constant temperature) and rinse for ten minutes, with a final minute in distilled water with wetting agent.

Drying: do this in the shower stall. Run the hot water to create steam for a minute or so, as this will prevent dust from flying around and forever be stuck on your precious negatives (this is a great tip as I have often seen negatives with tons of dust on them). Unspool the negative, examine if you’d like and hang with clips (one on top and one on bottom to prevent curling) and squeeze the water out with the damp squeege a couple of times. In about one hour your negs will be ready to be scanned. One more tidbit: I have found that Kodak films (Tri-x in particular) curl like crazy and Ilford films do not. When it comes to scanning time, you will learn to love ilford film just for that!

By the way, once you master these few steps, you will have a roll of film developed with a total time of about 20-30 minutes, excluding drying time. You will feel like a kid again, trembling with excitement and waiting to see the fruit of your work. When was the last time you have experienced that with your digital?

Ok, now that you have your dry strip of film, cut it in smaller strips of five pictures and you are ready to scan.

Scanner:

When it comes to scanners, unfortunately you do not have many choices if you are looking for high quality. I use the best flatbed there is at the moment, the Epson V750M Pro and I’m very happy with it’s features and final output. The only other choices would be a dedicated film scanner like the perennially out of stock Nikon 5000 or 9000, which are more epensive, or an Hasselblad X1 which will set you back $13K. You could also find an old Agfa Duoscan on eBay. Going back to Nikon for a second, unfortunately, they donʼt give a damn about film anymore so their scanners are old and merely an afterthought. They are too busy pumping out a new camera every 18 months to keep everyone spending money. More megapixels, 200,000 ISO so we can shoot raccoons and skunks in the middle of the night and new, useless features. By the time we barely figured out how to use the camera, a new one comes out and more money goes out the window. Okay, rant over :)

Again, I personally think that the Epson V750M Pro does a very fine job and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (B&H has it in stock @ $849 and again, you would have to spend A LOT more to get something better). It also comes with SilverFast Ai 6 which is expensive but FREE with the scanner.

MAJOR TIP HERE: You want these for you scanner! http:// www.betterscanning.com/

These guys sell MUST HAVE adapters and glass plates for your scanner. They hold the film in place and FLAT. Trust me, you donʼt want to scan without them. Like I have said above, Ilford film is okay but Kodak..forget it. Without these, you would have to leave the film flat under a weight for a day or so before even attempting to scan.

Once you have your scanner up and running, create a master folder on your desktop and name it, for example, “scanned negatives”. Then, inside that folder, you will create folders for each roll being scanned and that’s where your scanned photos will go.

Once you have scanned your negatives, you are ready to import the master folder, with its contents, into Lightroom (or Aperture). Once you have that, your pictures are available for any editing like dodging, burning, curves, contrast, brightness, vignetting, etc. If you wish, you can even open your scanned negative into Nik Silver Efex Pro and make use of some of the great features available there.

Once youʼre happy with your picture, with a Lightroom plug-in (which will be standard with Lightroom 3, I believe) you can easily upload your photos directly to Flick or Zenfolio, or export them as a jpeg into a separate folder and then upload directly within Flick, Zenfolio, or any other website that allows you to do so. (Note from Steve: Aperture 3 has this feature as well :) )

Printing:

Okay, some of us still like to see our precious work on paper. Before we start, even though weʼre not working in color here, you still want to have your monitor properly calibrated to match on paper what you see on the screen. There are great papers available today for inkjets and with some of them you can get extremely close to matching the beauty of optical, darkroom printing. As far as printers, the new line of Stylus Pro from Epson are awesome! I use the smallest (which is not that small) 3880 and I am super happy with it. You can also use older Epson models (like the 3800) and get superb prints. As far as paper, my favorites for black and white are Epson Velvet Fine art, Hanehmule Photo Rag and the superb Harman Glossy FB AI, which can give absolutely stunning prints.

Well, get out there and shoot. Have a great time, pay attention to light and your surroundings, and remember…keep it simple. You will enjoy photography a whole lot more.


From Steve: WOW! Thanks so much Max! This was a VERY informative article and makes me want to get out there again with some film. Truth be told, I have been checking out some used film cameras and hope to buy one soon for those times when I really want the B&W look. So thanks Max!

Max Marinucci is a Leica enthusiast who enjoys shooting film with his M3,  M7 and classic Leica lenses. He also owns and operates “The Wine Connection” in Pound Ridge, NY. You can some of Max’s fun film images at his flickr page HERE!


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Feb 132010
 

I have been using Apples Aperture 3 for the past 2 or 3 days and decided to make this video to show those who have not yet tried it how easy it is to use for tweaking and editing your images. This video does not go over every feature of the app (you can see Apples videos for that) but it will show you a straight from camera image being transformed using the tools in Aperture 3 and then Photoshop CS4.

I take an overexposed photo with tons of perspective distortion and fix up the image using Aperture 3′s editing tools and then I export to Photoshop CS4 to finish it off. This is a two part video and goes over some of the features of Aperture 3 in regards to editing an image. Aperture 3 is not a replacement for photoshop as I will still use CS4 when needed (like for the sample image in this video, and when I do detailed work for prints) but for most images I can now do everything within Aperture 3. Thanks for watching! Hope you enjoy it…

Onto the video(s)…

Part 1

Part 2



Jan 022010
 

slvfxprotut

After quite a few e-mails and a comment today in one of the posts about converting a color image to black and white I decided to sit down on this chilly Saturday and record a video tutorial on how I use Nik Silver Efex pro (Buy at Amazon or B&H Photo) to convert my images to B&W. Each image is different but I tried to go over the different ways you can adjust and customize your B&W conversions. I also show you how to create and save a preset so you can use your formula again and again. I feel Silver Efex Pro is the best conversion tool available today if you want rich, film like B&W photos.

If you landed here and have no idea what SIlver Efex Pro is, it is a filter/plug in for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture that allows you to create gorgeous black and white versions of your color digital images. So if you have Silver Efex but never really used it, or are thinking about getting it then sit back and watch this 10 minute video that goes over how I do my conversions using Silver Efex Pro!

Hope you enjoy it!

HERE is the before and after image that I used for the video.

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Nov 122009
 

Just made a short but sweet video on processing an image using two great filter plug ins for photoshop, lightroom or aperture. Nik Color Efex Pro and Nik Viveza. I love these plug ins and I will be doing a video review of them soon. For now, here is a quick image transformation using a few simple steps! Also, I noticed the youtube compression kind of killed the quality but below the video you can see the processed final image. Enjoy!

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