I'm Sorry, I Have to Take This Photo

I have a lot of habits. Brushing my teeth and flossing everyday is a good one. Waiting too long to fix something is a bad one. I also have a photography habit that is fun and potentially awkward. If I see a picture I want to take, I don't allow myself to walk away. I have to take the shot. 

I started doing this after I read The Photographer's Playbook (highly recommend) and specifically this quote by Eliot Porter. 

"You can't ever go back really, and get the same picture that you saw because when you go back it's not there anymore. The sun is different. The atmosphere is different. So one should never put off taking the picture if you see something. I found that out."

Here are a bunch that I have taken, and if you can find a pattern please let me know what it is. These aren't planned photowalks where I have a camera but daily moments where something catches my eye and I stop and grab my phone, click. 

This habit has made shooting easier too. It makes me trust my gut and develops my nerve to stop almost anywhere to take a picture. The middle of a street, in a crowd and even in a bathroom are all fair game.

Whenever I doubt and wonder that this may not be a good shot, I remind myself that it's better to take a shot and know it's bad than to wonder if it would have ever been good. I have a phone that can take more photos than I can ever imagine but if I'm not taking the photos I want to, why even carry it around? Other than Twitter, Instagram, Podcasts, Google Maps, Visual Voicemail...

A Simple Way to Describe Your Photography and Find New Ideas Too

It's hard to talk about your own work. It used to feel self serving and too introspective but recently I made up a fun exercise that helps. I used a simple sentence to describe some classic photographers and found you could use it to describe your own work and best of all create new projects and ideas as well. 

It's a simple formula: 

- NAME is known for shooting SUBJECT in a NAME OF STYLE. The images are most commonly described as THREE ADJECTIVES

This sounds simple and it is. Here are some examples of photographers I love. 

hb_2001.474.jpg

- Diane Arbus is known for shooting people on the edge of society in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as humanizing, evocative and disturbing. 

- Chikako is known for shooting flowers in a dreamlike style. The images are most commonly described as painterly, organic and hypnotic. 

MES1981016K064_520p_43.jpg

- Susan Meiselas is known for shooting Latin American conflict in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as raw, emotional and close to the action. 

Using the same formula and describing my tattoo project in this way is pretty easy too. 

- Dan Dao is known for shooting tattoo artists in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as natural, personal and straightforward. 

Secondly using this same formula you can remix parts to find new styles and approaches to things. Take the Diane Arbus description and change "people on the edge of society" to "softball players" or "pet snakes". You can take that style and description and use it as a framework for approaching a new subject. Maybe the images would be duds but it can get you thinking in new ways. How would Arbus shoot a softball catcher?

Photographers and artists can't reinvent the wheel on every project but they can remix ideas and subjects in new styles. This simple word play exercise really helped me define my work and gives me endless options for projects in the future. I hope you're ready for...

Dan Dao is known for shooting taco trucks in a macro photography style. The images are most commonly described as bright, colorful and yummy. 

Shooting to Remember

After graduate school I had all day to do nothing. I had moved back with my parents and would spend my day looking for jobs and  taking pictures with a Nikon D40. I took more pictures during that year off than any other year of my life. 

A lot of the photos were aimless and of subjects you bought a DSLR to shoot. People, flowers, travels and trying to exploit bokeh as much as you can. F1.8 and fast shutter speeds were my best friends. I didn't think too hard about composition or the images being special, it was shooting for pure enjoyment. 

Although the images weren't great, I still love these pictures. I captured all the small and big things that happened that year. I can go back in those images and remember where I was and what it felt like then. Currently my joy in photography is different, working at building my work and getting better at photography. These images remind me photography can also be about capturing everything around you as a time capsule. As time goes by I hope I can get all those little details back. 

Gordy's Camera Strap

Camera straps are something I really don't fuss over. I'm not a huge fan of straps being a fashion statement or being treated as something more important than just an item that helps you not drop your camera. But, if you're in the market and looking for one I couldn't recommend Gordy's camera strap enough. 

 Wrist Strap, Photo from Gordy's Camera Straps

Wrist Strap, Photo from Gordy's Camera Straps

I currently have three of them, two wrist straps (20$ each) and a neck strap (30$). They are made with high quality leather and I've used them for years without any issues. 

When you first use it the leather is bit stiff and it takes a while to for the leather to break in, after that it's extremely soft and comfortable. Because the strap isn't camera or system specific you can use it on almost anything as well. While they look pretty simple they hold a lot of weight and have performed extremely well with all sorts of gear for me. 

A camera strap isn't going to make your photography better but having a good strap is going to give you peace of mind. As I lean over edges, shoot off sides of boats and put my camera in terrible situations I've always been confident my Gordy's strap won't fail my camera or me. 

Double Exing like DBloomsday

Having a style that is recognizable is one of my goals as a photographer. Among the #believeinfilm community Jon Wilkening, Maite Pons, Chikako and David Allan have images you can spot a mile away. With David, aka DBloomsday, he's taken double exposures of buildings, people and scenes and woven them into great images. David is also an inspiration for me as someone who stuck to a style against normal conventions and praise. When you see tweets like this early last year and the success he's had since it's a cruel reminder of how being true to yourself and making images people like aren't always connected. 

I wanted to try my hand at his style. There were two good reasons too, I had rented a Canon A-1 for a review and hit had a dedicated double-exposure mode and secondly I'd recently read an article about performing the technique that made it sound way too easy. 

I loaded up the camera with FP4 and set the exposure compensation for -1. My goal was to overlay two similar images and have the overlaps create a geometrically double exposed area. Shooting was tricky and it took me a couple of shots to get comfortable with the double exposure latch on the A-1. I would shoot my first image, trigger the latch, advance the shutter but not the film, take a second shot and finally advance the shutter. I went for really simple geometric patterns: vertical overlay, horizontal overlay and a 90 degree flip. 

Getting the images back it was interesting to see what worked and what didn't. Images that worked had a defined overlap that was more confined and distinct. When the overlap was total or incomplete the images came out looking flat. As a whole the roll was much more experimental and loose than my typical roll. The hard part is that I'm not totally sure how to recreate the images that worked other than to reverse engineer how those specific shapes and patterns worked. My limited successes were purely random.
David owns this style and technique and turned randomness into consistency. My attempts were a nice dip into the water but it will take many more roles and deconstructing to become proficient at it. That's going to be true of any style I want to learn. I appreciate David's work even more now after trying it. It's not a totally random process but you need to be ok with a lot of failure at first. And when it's that hard to pull off you gotta be really dedicated or really delusional to succeed. I'm pretty sure he's both. 

Mediodía by David Hornillos

It sucks when you discover a photo book and find out it's no longer printed or is now too expensive to purchase. Mediodía by David Hornillos is on top of this long list of photo books for me. 
    The concept and execution of this book are so tight and clear.   David lives near Madrid's Atioch station where a large orange wall acts a backdrop for all the people who enter and leave the station. He captures the people, birds, animals, life and events around this massive orange wall. It ties all these unrelated moments and people together. 
    As a photographer you hope you can find a subject that captures your imagination and passion. David shows us a simple wall in the heart of a city can be that subject and more. 

Shooting on Friday the 13th the local Tattoo Holiday

Friday the 13th is a fun day in Austin. Tattoo shops open  all day and all night to give special discounts for small tattoos. I take the day off from work and went to visit a few shops to hopefully take a bunch of images. 

I have been reviewing my images for an updated copy of my zine/book and have realized I need more variety of shots. One of my goals for the day is to shoot more than just people tattooing but the feel and energy of the shop. How do people move through it? Who moves through it? What is the shop about? This is something I'll actively think about going from shop to shop. 

2:00 PM - 4:00 PM Black Dagger 

I revisit shops often because I'm comfortable with the people there and have a good idea of what I can shoot and how to do it. When you enter a scene for the first time you lose a roll getting a feel of the place and understanding the light. Maybe this will change over time but for me that first roll is usually very fast and gets my nerves out. 

Black Dagger is a great shop with really awesome artists. They have a really open format and a few closed rooms, which are harder to shoot in. I use the open layout and a borrowed chair to kind of zoom in and out of shots. I'm comfortable with most the guys so I can get up close without either of us being uncomfortable. Usually when both the tattooer and I are comfortable so is the customer.

I spend most of my two hours at the shop shooting with a 40mm lens trying to capture a wider scene and interactions between people. I also go for the shots I always go for, portraits and standard documentary, but everything goes well and it's a comfortable and loose situation. After about 4 rolls I leave for the next shop.

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM A Million Tattoo

One of the tattooers I know from another shop invites me over and it's my first time there. Going to a new shop the first time is always dicey but having access helps. I've done the cold call thing and that is brutal on both sides. 

When I enter I'm pretty sure that most people know why I am there but I'm also pretty sure most people aren't 100% on board.   So I avoid the people who don't want pictures and move on. I find an empty seat and start to just take pictures sitting in that one spot. The traffic at A Million is great with stations being turned over every 20 minutes. This is perfect for me and let's me get in a bunch of shots and angles since the scene is literally shifting all the time.

The hard part is that I really can't move around and nobody is trying to make it easier for me. They are grinding away and I need to stay out of the way. But it's still super fun and challenging. From my one spot I switch to a 50mm lens and break a open 360 scene into smaller and smaller scenes. Shoes that are perfectly aligned, people waiting and looking and people getting prepped. These things sounds so mundane but when you're deep into a project it's really impactful to have these in-between moments. 

I do have one disaster though, I over-wind a HP5 roll in the Leica. I know it happens and I go to the bathroom to try and get the film out of the camera. Losing the roll isn't terrible since it's my first roll in the shop but I have some good images from Black Dagger on it as well. I do my best to strip the roll from the camera and wrap the butchered roll in white non-light proof napkins and put it into my bag. I shoot about 3 more rolls and head back to drop off film. It's a little awkward but I'm happy with the number and type of shots I get. 

5:30-7:30 PM Crash 

I go back to film developer to drop off the rolls for development. I tell them about the HP5 and we agree to develop and see what happens, my hopes are low but I'm always amazed at how much salvaging they can do for me. 
Heading home I plan on getting a quick nap and dinner but end up resting for an hour before I go to my last shop. 

7:30 - 11:30 PM Royal Legion 

Royal Legion has a crew and space that I really trust. Like most shops it's open but being so close to Spider House Cafe they get a different clientele and atmosphere that makes shooting there special. I show up and awkwardly hang out in the doorway taking pretty conservative images. Ray, the owner, kinda yells at me to get into the scene and be active. 

Tattooers are artists and they know artists need to get pushed to get better. This shop more than others expects me to try new things and have less boundaries. It's no surprise I spend a lot of time shooting there and getting a really weird mix of shots. I go back to the 40mm due to the small room size and just blast away. 

People flow into and out of Royal Legion in waves. In four hours I see a small storm pass through, a wide range of people flow in to peek around and hang out, everyone grabbing dinner and everyone having a good time. It's a wild few hours and I get shots of much more variety and closeness than I do at the other shops. 

It's also where I get a little bit tired and end up "just shooting". This mode for me is post peak concentration and almost brainstorming shots with your camera. You're not trying to nail anything in particular but literally shooting at anything that is even remotely interesting. Click-click-click, rolls start flowing out of the camera. I'm still unsure if this is a good place to be but I do know it's getting close to closing time for me. 

11:30 Home

I arrive home pretty exhausted after a really long day of shooting. Moving forward I'll carry a light proof film canister and a film retriever since the over wind scenario was so hair raising. Shooting-wise it was a great day and I'm happy with the variety and number of shots I got. I shot about 12 rolls which is about 200-300 images, I'll get them back in a few weeks but for now I've survived another Friday the 13th and am totally looking forward to the next one. 

Don't Buy a Collapsible Leica Lens with Haze

Recently I saw a too good to be true deal on a Leica 50mm F2.8 Elmar lens. It was a M Mount and collapsible, which would be a good compliment to my 50mm Summicron DR that is heavy but very precise. The only issue is that it had haze behind the front element but for $160 it was a small risk for a potentially great lens. 

 The Culprit: 50mm F2.8 Elmar, you can see the haze too.   Photo is from  Used Photo Pro  who graciously accepted my return too. 

The Culprit: 50mm F2.8 Elmar, you can see the haze too. 

Photo is from Used Photo Pro who graciously accepted my return too. 

Fix Old Cameras has always warned me that haze can't be taken lightly, it can either be really easy or ruin the lens. Most of my experiences with hazy lenses has been really easy. You open up the lens, use some alcohol to wipe away the haze and you're on your way. But older collapsible Leica's have a known issue where the oils in the aperture blades evaporate over time and etch lens. Etched is not haze, it looks like haze but is more like running sandpaper over the element. This ruins lenses. 
At first I thought no big deal, let's put a couple of rolls through and see what comes out. Surprisingly it handled some situations really well and really bombed on others. Direct light made it extremely soft and almost unusable. When light didn't hit the lens directly it took some amazingly sharp and clear images. I waffled over keeping it but David Hancock woke me up, "Return it. There are ones out there without unfixable haze. If you want that look with a future lens, grab a UV filter and scratch it up." This had me walking back from the cliff. 


Collapsible Leica lenses are an enticing bargain. They're cheap, easily found and sometimes a great value. But turn down any one you see with haze. Every Leica repair person I contacted wouldn't even take a look at it. I thought I could live with it too, but it's not fun to shoot with something your always going to worry about.

Erwin Blumenfeld

Well paid and influential fashion photographer is a great way to be remembered and Erwin Blumenfeld was that and more in his career. As I'm digging through my Pinterest and trying to figure out why I am drawn to certain images, I came across this from Erwin. 

6b17172ced27169e187fca37824fe38a.jpg

Figure studies, drawing and photography, teach you how to see shapes and light using the greatest canvas on earth, the human body. You sit, see and create an image. The texture and the form draw me in here. The hands rise up out of the image like a tree while a face is buried in a forearm. The composition is strong with hands seemingly praying and having everything, the head and arms fade to black. And even though there is so much darkness in this image we still have a sense there are better and brighter things ahead. 

Photo Book Reviews: Ward 81 by Mary Ellen Mark

Ward 81 is Mary Ellen Mark's photo book of living in a psychiatric hospital for 36 days. The book contains haunting black and white images of women lounging around sterile rooms that look more like a prison then a hospital. 

Mark describes her goal as, "I wanted to help these women make contact with the outside world by letting them reach out and present themselves. I didn't want to use them. I wanted them to use me."

The essay that starts the book describes her stay and the women she met. The images afterward don't name the women in the images and forces you to match a face to the story. Who is described as stoic but violent and who is described as trying to rip her arms apart violently? 

According to Mark the women at the facility spent most of their time watching TV and smoking, and the longer Mark stayed at the hospital the larger of a toll it took on her. "It had happened to Mary Ellen also. Somebody told her that if it weren’t for the camera around her neck, you couldn’t tell her from the patients." 

The images in Ward 81 are poignant and personal. The woman in the bathtub who looks stuck in time. The peering eyes through the doors looking for a way to leave. The thousand yard stares to places far beyond the walls. If anything in the book sticks with me it's the eye's of the women who would rather be anywhere else but in Ward 81. 

In the years since these images were taken the state of mental health care in America have greatly declined. Due to cases of reported abuse at state facilities, like Ward 81, most have transitioned to private institutions and many all together have closed. Prisons, both private and public, and the streets have become the primary homes of people living with mental illness today. While Mark called for greater resources and money be spent on mental health in the 1980s the images in Ward 81 sadly now reflect better times for people living with mental illness. 

Ward 81 is a fantastic book in either hard cover or paper back. As a photographer you try and live by Robert Capa's oft quoted, "if you're photos aren't good enough, you're not close enough," but Mark took that to another level by entrenching herself with these women and living as they lived. Her closeness is not only that of space but in shared suffering. 

Highly Recommended. 

Ondu Pinhole 6x12 Multiformat Review

A few months ago I was contacted by ONDU to review and showcase their pinhole camera. I've used one before and was really interested by their 6x12 medium format model. Wide format photography is something I wanted to tackle but couldn't afford it, and definitely not in medium format.

When the camera came I was delighted with the build quality. Most pinhole cameras are made of paper or plastic and cheaply built, the ONDU is not that. Made with walnut and maple it's a beautiful thing to hold. Small details like rounded corners and edges, clean jointing, precise milling and smooth finishing show that the ONDU was made with love and care. I used to dabble in word working and seeing something made this well is really inspiring. 

The camera itself is simple. The only moving parts are the shutter and winding nobs. The frame selection system is cutaways on the film plane with small spacers you can use to select between frames (6x6, 6x9, 6x12).  Two winding nobs on top of the camera advance the film in either direction. On top is a very useful spirit level and on the bottom a metal tripod mount. View lines are etched into the top and side of the camera. 

I took the ONDU out an a couple of trips to test it. I chose the 6x12 frame giving me 6 images on a 120 roll. This means using the center window and shooting on frame 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 to get 6 images. Most forums recommend being conservative with winding and to stop advancing when the even numbers are barely visible. This ensures the images don't get cut off if the 120 roll is a bit short. Frames 6x6 will give you 12 shots, 6x9 will give you 7.

I placed the ONDU on a small tripod and added some pressure to the top of the camera as I opened the shutter. I always worried about camera shake but didn't see any in my images. The shutter was open the length of time that ONDU recommended and after that elapsed I closed the shutter and advanced the film to the next number. 

Shooting on Ektar 100 I got some great images with some interesting color shifts. The images weren't the sharpest but didn't look like mush either. Vignetting was pretty strong but that's part of the charm with pinhole. The images had a very specific character and style that you don't see much of anymore.

I don't think the ONDU should be your first pinhole camera, you should start out using those cheap plastic and paper ones to get your feet wet and to see if you even like pinhole. If you do, the ONDU should be your second camera. It's extremely well built, acts predictably and makes the pinhole process, which is hard enough, simpler. 

You can purchase the ONDU 6x12 and other models from www.ondupinhole.com.

10 Questions about Des Moines, Iowa. 2010 by Peter van Agtmael

Inspired by an assignment from the Photographer's Playbook I'll ask 10 questions about an image that for some reason I can't shake. This week it's Des Moines, Iowa. 2010 by Peter van Agtmael. 

 ©Peter van Agtmael, Des Moines, Iowa. 2010. 

©Peter van Agtmael, Des Moines, Iowa. 2010. 

  • Why is this image haunting and hopeful at the same time?
  • The lighting is straight above her, giving the illusion that she is floating. Is the whole room like this?
  • Her dress on my browser pulled up images of prairie dresses on young women. Could their be a larger juxtaposition?
  • What political party is this woman, we know it's a Republican event but I can't tell? Can you tell a person's beliefs by looking at them?
  • If I knew her beliefs would it change the meaning of this image for me?
  • What is the message of this image?
  • How did Peter add a sense of movement to the image when her posture is almost sculptural?
  • Did he wait for her to lift her foot or is that a coincidence? 
  • The chairs are stacked to the left but she is moving this one to the right, is this before or after the event?
  • The colors, framing and texture of this image portray a bleakness about America that is hard to shake. Are these my feelings about the image or my feelings about America?

Do you have questions about this image? Feel free to put them in the comments. Also this image is from a new book from Peter van Agtmael, Buzzing At the Sill. It's on my wishlist of books to get and I've heard amazing things about it. You can also find more about Peter and his amazing work here

 

Photo Tools: Ren Hang

 Courtesy Ren Hang Studio, Beijing. 

Courtesy Ren Hang Studio, Beijing. 

Who is Ren Hang? 

Ren Hang was born in 1987 and died in 2017. He is known for his images of nudes, in which multiple people are stacked, layered, contorted and juxtaposed with living, dead animals and flowers. Although his work is sexual and explicit it never crosses into exploitation or demeans his subjects.  I admire the distinctiveness of his style and subject matter along with his ability to create such work in China. 


Gear

Ren used simple and affordable gear which fit his style as well. He was usually found in a plain white t-shirt and white shoes. 

Camera: Minolta 110 Zoom, the 110 is getting pretty hard to find but the 115 is very similar 

Film: Fujicolor 200

Clothes: white shirt and white vans

My Favorite Photos 

 "[Ren Hang's] works interpreted sex in a Chinese way, which contained a sense of loss and sorrow,"  Weiwei

"[Ren Hang's] works interpreted sex in a Chinese way, which contained a sense of loss and sorrow," Weiwei

 "But it is very difficult to shoot nudes in China. People are more bound by traditional and conservative attitudes toward the body. They think it’s a degradation, even a demoralization, to show what they think should be private. They generally abhor nudity here. We hide the body in our culture." Ren Hang to  Purple Magazine

"But it is very difficult to shoot nudes in China. People are more bound by traditional and conservative attitudes toward the body. They think it’s a degradation, even a demoralization, to show what they think should be private. They generally abhor nudity here. We hide the body in our culture." Ren Hang to Purple Magazine

 "“I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.” Ren Hang to  Taschen  (NSFW)

"“I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.” Ren Hang to Taschen (NSFW)

Books 

Ren Hang by Taschen (NSFW link)

References

Most of his gear and technique I found in this video (NSFW)

Photo Tools: Matt Stuart

This is a new series where I do some research into some new and old photographers to discuss what they use and why you need to know them. Let me know who you'd like to see in the future. 

 Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

Who is Matt Stuart? 

Matt is a new face in Magnum carrying on their tradition of street photography. Matt Stuart work reminds me of Lee Friedlander who captures tiny nuances with humor and lightness but Matt adds a more formal composition and focus, the streets of London. 

The Gear

Camera: Leica MP

Lens: 35mm F1.4 Summilux

Film: Fuji Superia 200/400

Shoes: Common Projects (high)/ Leather Stan Smiths (Low), Seen in this video 

My Favorite Photos from Matt

 "This picture took at least six months to come together, although, if I’m honest, I never knew it would come together until it did."—Matt Stuart, from Great Journeys  Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

"This picture took at least six months to come together, although, if I’m honest, I never knew it would come together until it did."—Matt Stuart, from Great Journeys

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

 " I had been bent over with my bum in the air for about half an hour when a rather confident pigeon walked past. I instinctively shot this frame but as I was doing it I noticed something had happened with the human legs as well." For more background from Matt clickthrough    Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

"I had been bent over with my bum in the air for about half an hour when a rather confident pigeon walked past. I instinctively shot this frame but as I was doing it I noticed something had happened with the human legs as well." For more background from Matt clickthrough

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

 "Buy a good pair of comfortable shoes, have a camera around your neck at all times, keep your elbows in, be patient, optimistic and don't forget to  smile " - Matt Stuart  Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

"Buy a good pair of comfortable shoes, have a camera around your neck at all times, keep your elbows in, be patient, optimistic and don't forget to smile" - Matt Stuart

Copyright: Matt Stuart 2016

Books 

 Currently sold out :( but check  his site

Currently sold out :( but check his site

Hope you enjoyed that. It's pretty fun doing the research and pulling these together. 

References:

Stuart, Matt. “Book.” MATT STUART | PHOTOGRAPHER | SHOOTS PEOPLE, 1 Jan. 2016, www.mattstuart.com/.

Ultimate Black and White Film Comparison Guide

I went through a couple months in 2016 trying out a lot of black and white (B&W) emulsions before I finally settled on Ilford HP5. I dug up these image examples and give my take on what I enjoyed and disliked about the films. Hopefully you'll find this helpful and links to purchase the films are in the titles. 

Fomapan 400

It's a little bit muddy and dull. I pushed 2 rolls to 1600 and really didn't like what came back, it could be that I underexposed some images but even properly exposed images didn't have any punch or character either. Not a fan. 

Ilford FP4

At ISO 125 FP4 is a great film for landscapes and still life subjects. It is perfectly fine but never really captured me. It's classic and simple but lacks the punch in contrast that I'm going for. 

Ilford Delta 400

I had one roll come out spectacularly and another come back a dud. Delta 400 is a step up from HP5 with a finer grain and possibly more dynamic range. Is it $2 better than HP5? I'll have to try a couple more rolls to be sure. 

Ilford HP5

My favorite and I've covered it in depth before. It gives my images a look I really like and I rarely have to do any adjustments in post. For me that's enough. 

Ilford XP2

It may sound like blasphemy to have a C-41 B&W film in this list but I liked the look of what I got back. Images were extremely contrasty with a quick gradation from black to white. It looks and feels a bit noir. Disadvantage is that you really can't push it easily. 

Kentmere 400

Made by Ilford this is the cheaper version of HP5. Looking at these images now make me want to go back and give it another try, the images have a similar character as HP5 with nice contrast and tone but one issue is a little less dynamic range.

Kodak Double X 5222

Kodak Double X is a motion picture stock that was given to me by David Hancock. I've had a great time with Double X, and the images have a flat overall look but show great detail and character. One of the more subtle films I've tried and it would be great for still life images and portraits. This has also been rebranded by Cinestill as bwxx. 

Kodak P3200

The roll I had was super expired, 10 years, and I should of shot it at 800 rather than 1600. These aren't the best examples but do show what expired high speed film looks like. 

Kodak Tmax 100

I had purchased 20ish rolls of this for $2 a roll when I left Kansas. Being the first B&W film I used I really loved the smooth gradations and classic tones it produced. It's a versatile and forgiving film as well, it looks pretty good pushed at 400 and handled all sorts of weird photo assignments I did very well. 

Kodak Tmax 400

While I loved Tmax 100, I never fell for Tmax 400. The images came out fine in terms of detail and sharpness but I felt there were a bit lifeless in impact and contrast. Even when pushed it felt a bit too restrained for me. 

Kodak Tri-X

While I didn't like Tmax at 400 I really like Tri-x. It's a classic look that borders on being too contrasty but I prefer a B&W film to have a bit of punch. It pushes really well too and is incredibly sharp. The only reason it doesn't beat HP5 is because I like the tonal range of Ilford slightly more. 

Ultrafine 400

It could of been the day but my images with Ultrafine 400 were a bit flat and muddy. I prefer a bit of tension in the negative and this didn't deliver. 

Thanks for making it this far. If you have any other B&W films you'd like to see me try please put it in the comments. Also what's your favorite and why? 

My Favorite Films

I like to try new things and new places but once I find something I like I make it into my routine so I don't have to think as much. It's the same with restaurants, cameras and film. Here are some of my current favorite films and why I love them so much. I'm going to focus on color, contrast and saturation. The titles are also links to purchase the film so if you're interested in supporting this page feel free to pick up some rolls.  

Fuji Superia 400

I'm a bit sad that Fuji is pulling back on it's film production but at the very least they created some great emulsions and supported them as long as they could. I love Superia 400 because you can get it at anywhere, it's a bit oversaturated and handles greens and reds in a way that stands out. It's what sold me then and always brings me back. 

Kodak Ektar 100

Ektar is known for being a great landscape and travel film and it's been Kodak's de-facto successor to Kodachrome. I love the way it handles reds and borders on over saturation. Ektar is versatile as well, you can overexpose a lot and get away with it. Images with Ektar have a very pleasing and natural color palette as well. 

Ilford HP5

I had messed around with a lot of black and white brands but once I tried HP5 I knew I had found my look and have stuck with it since. I push HP5 to 1600 because I shoot indoors and that increases contrast and grain. It gives my images a really specific look and feel that work well with the tattoo content. It's also very affordable and Ilford hasn't shown any signs of slowing down it's production. 

Kodak T-max 100

T-max 100 is little less edgy then HP5 and versatile as well. I don't shoot a lot at ASA 100 but this is the film that made me love black and white. Images have a classic feel and look. Kodak has shown restraint with contrast and their is a lot of gradiance between black and white. 

So those are my current favorite films. Since this was so fun to write and cull through my images I'll do a larger post on all the films I've shot with some quick quips and examples. Let me know if there is a specific film you'd like to see me cover. Have fun shooting!

Old School Photo Lab: Mail Order Reviews

I'm lucky enough to live down the street from my film developer, Austin Camera. While that is great for me now, I've also lived in a smaller city and had to take my film to a store that shipped out for development. To help everyone out I'll send some rolls out to popular online mail order developers and let you know what I think about their services. 

Starting off is Old School Photo Lab which is based out of New Hampshire. They have been active in the film photography community on social media and seem like genuinely nice people. The twitter community swears by them and they were easily the first service I wanted to test. 

Ease of Use

Old School Photo Lab (OSPL) has a very straightforward process. You first decide what you want in terms of development: film format, film type, prints, scans and extras like push processing and cross processing. After that you add the items to your cart. If you are have multiple rolls with the same needs you can just increase the number for those settings. You then print out a mailing label and a receipt and send it off. Postage is included in the price so no need to go to the post office.

I found  only one issue with the service. While I was using the mobile system I could not figure out how to delete a messed up item. I had to go to my laptop and redo my order, this isn’t a huge deal but with mobile being so prevalent it’s something that should be fixed or made simpler. If I’m missing something really blatant about this let me know. 

 Where's the delete?

Where's the delete?

Although it has some extremely small quirks OSPL is still super easy. 4.5/5

Timeliness

I sent out my film on October 24th and received my scans on October 31st and the negatives came on November 3rd. That’s one week for scans and 10 days for negatives to get back to you. That’s pretty darn fast, I bet the biggest driver of time is how long it takes the film to ship to them in NH. 

Not sure how they can make it faster and still be economical  5/5

Quality of Scans

Scan quality was great. I had sent 120 film and went with regular scan quality. They were sized at 2416x2380 and I really liked how the they handled my scans. The images were scanned to allow the customer to choose the final look of the image and OSPL were restrained when it came to contrast adjustment and saturation. This approach is really what I’m looking for in a scanning service that are not super familiar with what I like to do with my images. 

To get your scans back you are emailed a link to their website with a password. I’m used to having a dropbox link emailed to me and adding the folder to my account but I’ve filled up my dropbox doing this pretty quickly.

Using the secondary website was easy but I didn’t like that in order to download the images on the website required a zip file to be sent to you. I’m not opening that at work. To get around this they offer an app in which you can download the images directly which really is the best of both worlds. I’m not a huge fan of downloading another app but if you use OSPL a lot it is a lifesaver and very smart move on their part. 

5/5

Customer Service

I didn’t have any issues with my order so I didn’t need to call them, which in reality can be the best customer service. When I got my negatives back in the mail they included a hand written thank you card and some complimentary prints. While these things don’t cost a lot they didn’t need to either. I’ve heard other people getting candy back with their negatives and weird requests for the film canisters as well. 

Another part of customer service is servicing the community that supports you. Check out this exchange with Jon. OSPL knows their position in the community and that they can really help people out when they have problems. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money but this type of care really shows. 

jon_wilkening_on_Twitter___Hey__OldSchoolLab__I_developed_3_rolls_of_Ektar_this_morning_and_they_came_out_blank_and_bright_pink__Are_the_chemicals_spent__.png

They go above and beyond 5/5

Value 

One roll of 120 film cost me $16.00 and was shipped free both ways. If I was to ship it on my own it would cost about $6, I’m pretty sure OSPL get’s some type of break but that’s about $10 for development and a total steal. 

Not sure how much lower you're expecting. 5/5

Overall

I couldn’t be more happy with the service and only really had some minor issues with the ordering process which I think could be easily fixed. I probably should keep this review just to the service they provided me but their impact on the community shouldn’t be under emphasized. They care about the community that they serve and when do that you help people who may never spend a dollar with you. That’s paying it forward. 

Maybe the best out there. 5/5