Archive for the ‘Things I’ve learned’ Category

Seeking Satisfaction

May 29, 2012

I had a conversation last week with a photographer friend. We swapped stories about our most recent photographic trips, our expectations, and the final results.

During the conversation, one thing became clear — we both find it difficult to become completely satisfied with our own photography.

This is a feeling I’ve had for quite some time, and it was nice to hear that I wasn’t the only one in this predicament.

This raises several questions regarding the satisfaction of one’s work versus the continual learning process of photography. The self proclaimed “master photographers” need not read further, since this doesn’t apply to you — but for the rest of us that believe photography is an endless process of learning, please keep reading.

I can honestly say that I have 2 or 3 photos that I am truly satisfied with. When viewed as a print, they trigger a sensation in my mind that makes me feel calm and at ease. This is not to say that these images are perfect. That assertion does not exist — nor would I want it to. It is merely a statement that I would do nothing to change the image, even if I had a chance to go back in time and re-shoot it.

There are certain aspects of the human experience that play a big role in photography. The more we work for something, the more we appreciate it. In the days or weeks after I take a photo — when the experience is still fresh in my mind — my perception of the image is often skewed by the amount of work it took to shoot it. This of course means nothing to the viewer. They have no interest in hanging a photo on their wall simply because I hiked 10 miles to take it. We must separate our own perception from our photography.

Strangely enough, the images I am most satisfied with are those that I captured long ago. The effort it took to take the photo is no longer in the forefront of my mind. I don’t remember how cold it was that morning, how many miles I hiked, or the number of previous attempts it took to get the image.

When I pick-up my film from the lab, I am often times disappointed with my own work. Perhaps the composition isn’t quite right, or the exposure is off. In any case, the vast majority of my shots are carelessly tossed into the “crap” pile. Fast forward a few days, and my perception of the images has changed. Maybe one or two images are rescued from the reject pile. Give it a few months, and those images will be a part of my portfolio.

I’m curious what this means. How has a detachment from image capture led to a greater level of satisfaction? This is a clear departure from past feelings about my own work — where I grew weary of my own images as time passed.

I have come to the realization that this level of satisfaction is attributed to my own fading memory of the scene. I strive to produce photos that are simple, dynamic, and most of all — realistic. The frustration with my own work often stems from not being able to accurately depict the true essence of a location. As my memory fades of the original scene, my photo becomes that reality — almost guaranteeing some degree of personal satisfaction.

I sometimes worry that the personal satisfaction I’ve gleaned from those select images is a sign that my own photographic abilities are stagnant — but I know that is not true. I continue to break through my own personal barriers, and am learning to shoot the 8×10 in increasingly difficult situations.

“Nature Through Your Eyes” Show on Google+

March 26, 2012

For those of you who are not a part of Google Plus, you should really check it out. There is an active photography community that posts amazing photos, and discusses photography.

One of the great features of Google+ is ability to create video “Hangouts.” There are many well-versed Google Plus users that are using hangouts to broadcast live shows similar to video Podcasts.

I was invited to take part in the excellent “Nature Through Your Eyes” show yesterday evening. This show is orchestrated by Jim Davis and Ron Clifford, and the guests included Peyton Hale, Athena Carey, Karin Nelson, Dave Hunsche from fstop gear, and myself.

This also gives a preview of the video studio I’ve created in my house for future video blog posts.


Things I’ve learned: Calm Photos

October 2, 2011

The advent of high quality digital photography has allowed photographers to capture scenes that would be nearly impossible with film in the past. By combining different exposures, and using various ISO settings, photographers are able to create idealized photos of very dynamic scenes. These photos are often awe inspiring when shared on photo forums.

This past September, I shared several new prints at ArtWalk on the Bay — a leading art event in San Diego. While setting up my booth, I made an observation about my work. All of my images are calm. They reflect a quiet moment — one of contemplation, and serenity. Even my most dynamic photo — a seascape taken in La Jolla, has a calm hush to it.

When printed large and hung on a wall, a calm photo will add to the ambiance of a room. It serves as a reassuring breath of fresh air.

Conversely, a ultra dynamic photo has the opposite effect when hung on a wall. This visual noise of the image dominates the room, overpowering the decor. An image that stands out in a photography forum because of its dynamic appeal may be the worst when hung on a wall.

Regardless if you are shooting film or digital, the experience of viewing a print is much different than viewing online. An print doesn’t need to SCREAM AT THE VIEWER to be good.

Yesterday, I hung two new photos in my house. A framed 20″x 25″ print of  Approaching Storm now sits above the couch in my living room, and a framed 20″x 25″ of Thermal Spring now hangs over my mantle. These two photos changed the overall feel of the room. A calm, reassuring feeling now prevails.

Fuji Velvia 100 vs. Kodak Ektar 100: Round 2

September 26, 2011

In my last post on this topic, I compared the performance of Fuji Velvia 50 to Kodak Ektar 100. Though wildly popular among landscape photographers, Velvia 50 is a notoriously unforgiving film. It is not well suited for long exposures. For that reason, I occasionally use Fuji Velvia 100.

Many years ago, Fuji thought it was a good idea to discontinue Velvia 50. They replaced it with Velvia 100, which created quite the stir. Why discontinue something that is so loved? Fuji touted Velvia 100’s significantly improved reciprocity failure characteristics. While very true that Velvia 100 does better with long exposures, it often suffers from a strong purple cast during sunrise/sunset conditions — and especially while using graduated neutral density filters.

Needless to say, Fuji made the right decision, and brought back Velvia 50.

During my annual pilgrimage to Zion National Park last November, my goal was to photograph Subway with my 8×10 camera. This scene is best photographed in the late afternoon when a dominant glow appears against the rear wall of this narrow canyon.

Otherworldly: Kodak Ektar 100 8x10 | Several Minutes @ f/45

The above photo was taken at f/45 using a polarizer in a very dark canyon. To capture a scene like this on large format, you will need a very long exposure.

Velvia 100 does quite well with the long exposures, but check out what happens to the color under these conditions.

Not only is the color very blue/purple, but the high contrast scene leads to issues with the highlights and shadows. In all fairness, this is a direct scan from my Epson V700 flatbed. Unlike a drumscan, my flatbed cannot pull complete tonality from the original film. When viewed on my light table, there is adequate tonality in the highlights, but the shadows are definitely lost.

I exposed this scene so the brightest highlights registered just over +2 on my spotmeter. The deepest shadows fell in the -3 to -4 zone — The zone of no return on slide film. There’s nothing wrong with having rich dark tone in a photo, but this simply wasn’t the look I was going for.

So why did I bother to bring Velvia 100 if I knew the color would be so bad? Simple, I knew exactly what to expect from it, and I could always tweak the color back to reality if possible. Velvia 50 would give better color, but my exposure would be well outside the range of acceptable exposure times.

Unlike most color print films that benefit from a bit of overexposure, Kodak Ektar 100 must be treated more like a slide film. In my round one comparison, I found that Ektar provided the best exposure when rated at the standard ISO while shooting a relatively low contrast scene. I bracketed my exposures, but decided the base ISO was best. As I exposed brighter, I began to lose my highlights.

Most manufactures provide a reciprocity failure correction table. Put simply, if your exposure time exceeds a certain limit, you need to increase the exposure. Film does not react to long exposures on a linear scale. Velvia 50 is among the worst for reciprocity failure. At 4 seconds, you need to start adding extra time. By the time you reach a minute, you must double your exposure. If you fail to do this, you will end up with an underexposed photo.

Here’s the problem. Kodak does not publish any reciprocity failure statistics for Ektar. They simply tell the end user to experiment and see what works best. That’s a bit difficult on 8×10. At $20 a shot, simply bracketing an exposure means $60. Yikes!

After shooting a sheet of Velvia 100, I removed the film holder, and replaced it with one loaded with Ektar 100. I was using an unproven (to me) film in a high contrast, long exposure situation. I didn’t even have published reciprocity failure numbers for this film, so I went with my instinct.

I took a total of two frames. My plan was to expose one at +1, and a second at +2. The first shot went just as planned; I simply doubled my exposure. During the second shot, I chickened out and cut the exposure short. I gave it +1.5 stops rather than +2. I’m not sure why I decided to cut it short — but it seemed to make sense at the time.

Laid side by side on a light table, there is only a subtle difference. Upon close examination, I prefer the exposure with +1.5 compensation. The highlights are similar for each, but I gain just a hair more shadow detail on the +1.5 version.  Here’s what it looks like when scanned as a positive. Check out the detail on the right side.  Though in deep shadow, there is a lot of information to work with.

If we think back to the original exposure, the brightest highlights were metered around +2.3. By adding +1.5 stops of exposure, they would now be metered at +3.8. Had reciprocity failure not been a factor, I would certainly have severe issues with the highlights. After all, Ektar 100 is a film that must be treated more like a slide film.

Though I am ultimately unsure of the exact reciprocity failure numbers for Kodak Ektar 100, I am now confident in giving at least an extra stop of time for long exposures. I don’t recall the exact exposure for this scene, but I know it was measured in minutes — perhaps 2 or 3.

This photo of Subway represents my first gallery grade image on Kodak Ektar.  With this shot, Ektar has earned a spot in my regular rotation of films. I look forward to using it on my next trip, along with Kodak’s Portra 160.