Japan

Visiting Japan during the Cherry Blossom season this year as part of our far east adventure was one of the most life-changing experiences I've had throughout our travels. I've always been fascinated with the far east, especially Japan, and have wanted to visit since I was a kid.

My wife, Sam, and I travelled to Japan as part of a larger trip to Tokyo, Kyoto and Beijing. We landed in Tokyo after flying direct from Chicago ORD on a Boeing 777 and spent the first week and a half in Japan admiring the Cherry Blossom's before traveling to Kyoto via the JR Rail, also known as the Bullet Train. From Kyoto, we took the JR Rail back to Tokyo and flew direct from Tokyo NRT to Beijing, China PEK.

The first few days in Tokyo were overwhelming and flew by very quickly - from walking through the gardens filled with Cherry Blossoms to witnessing the crowds of salarymen and tourists at the Shibuya Crossing to experiencing the arcades and storefronts lines with manga, video games and action figures in Akihabara. The food was fantastic, and from a consistently standpoint, the best I've ever experienced. Arguably, the best meal we enjoyed was an Omakase style lunch with Chef Mizutani in Ginza. Or maybe it was Fu-Unji in Shibuya.

I think what struck me the most about Tokyo was how welcoming and warm the Japanese people were to us and to each other. Imagine Tokyo as a clean, friendly, and quiet (with the exception of Akihabara!) version on Times Square in New York City... it was surreal. Living in Chicago, Sam and I couldn't get over constantly being aware of our surroundings and ensuring we weren't walking in to any shady areas. At not point in my entire visit, day or night, did we feel out of place or unwelcome. We enjoyed some of the best meals and experiences since deciding to travel the world, including attending the Opening Day Japanese Baseball Game and our early morning visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which apparently will be moving outside the city in the near future?  

The Bullet Train ride to Kyoto was more beautiful than I had imagined. After spending time in a mega city like Tokyo, we had the opportunity to see some of the countryside, or more rural parts of Japan, as well as a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. We met an older man on the train who insisted on practicing his english with us and demonstrating his knowledge of the United States. In addition to our conversation, he provided us with a sketch with rough english-written recommendations of what to avoid or enjoy during our brief visit.

During our time in Kyoto, we experienced a good amount of rain and unpleasant weather however the Temples and Bamboo Forest were beautiful. The Temple's provided incredibly bold and bright colors, amazing attention to detail and an environment that truly felt as if there weren't tourists surrounding the temple. As for the Bamboo Forest, the colors, size and consistency of a natural environment reminds you of the power of nature and how small we truly are. 

There are so many amazing things about Japan and while we spent a good amount of time there, I left feeling like we had only scratched the surface of this country. That said, I believe Tokyo is the only city where I would drop everything and move there in a second. No questions asked. The Japanese people were amazing hosts and I cannot wait to return to explore and learn more about such a beautiful country.

Images below were taken with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS, and Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always a great time to pause and reflect on all that you're grateful in your life. For me - it's my wife, family and friends. That said, we welcomed our newest member to the Schroepfer family this year.

My godson, Myles Stewart Schroepfer.

Image was taken with a Sony A7 Mark ii and the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA.


San Miguel de Allende

As I slowly finish the most travelled year of my life, I’ve found some time to review my photographs, experiment with medium format film and print, and continue writing. Coming up on the winter months in Chicago as well as almost ten months since visiting San Miguel de Allende, I’d like to consider this the first of several retrospective posts to come in the next few months.

Having grown up in Texas, Mexico was always the closest international trip available. But in my experience, the Mexico I knew was filled with spring break partiers, beautiful beaches and various western hotel chains. It wasn’t until I landed in Guanajuato, drove through some rough areas of rural Mexico and arrived in San Miguel that I knew I hadn’t ever experienced authentic Mexico. This small albeit insanely beautiful city is now, and will always be, my ideal Mexico.

There are many aspects of San Miguel that I love, but my absolute favorite has to be the colors. From the clothing to the food and buildings, the city is alive with bright, bold colors. From strong reds and oranges to bright purples and blues, there are minor aspects that may remind you of Nice, Monaco or even Paris, but the colors found in San Miguel are unlike any other place I’ve visited. In addition to the beautiful colors, San Miguel, is known to be home to various artists, writers and creative individuals including photographers who have created exhibits solely on the intricate architectural details. As I spent time exploring the city and connecting with its people, it left me feeling more inspired and creative every day. From merchants on the streets to interactions with our guides, I found the people of San Miguel to be genuinely open, warm and welcoming. I absolutely loved our time in San Miguel and look forward to returning in the future.

Images below were taken with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS, and Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux.

Creative Exposure

I’ve been working with RPL for a few weeks now, and like any relationship, feel like we’re getting better at understanding each other and how we work. For the record, I’ve been very impressed with their scans from the start, but I believe I’m getting much closer to my preferred exposures. Looking back at my previous post, Explorations in Medium Format, you can see how most of the photograph is washed out and even has a bit of a faded look to it. This is due to human error in measuring the hand metering computations, resulting in an over-exposed photograph by at least four or five stops by my estimation. 

The following photograph is the closest representation to where I’m hoping to find most of my exposures moving forward. I’ve been focusing on refining exposure and hand metering throughout these first few batches of photographs, so while the subject matter may be lacking, the focus is really on finding the appropriate range of exposure that aligns both technically and creatively with my vision.

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Kodak Portra 400, Overexposed 2 stops n an overcast Fall afternoon

Creatively, I love how this photograph has a decent amount of contrast and has a rich saturation to it. Unlike the first few posts, this photograph doesn't appear to suffer some of the previously noted downsides like blown out highlights, slightly faded subject matter, and too bright of an image overall. I also really enjoy how well the Zeiss 80mm Planar T* f/2.8 singles out the subject matter when shot wide open at f/2.8. In addition to tack-sharp focus, the bokeh rivals that of the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA which has been rated one of the two best (and sharpest) auto-focus lenses available today. Overall, it's impressive that such an old camera still competes, and in some ways still exceeds, modern digital technology.

And I often have to remind myself, it's not just the camera technology. I can’t stress how amazed I am by out of the camera color profile of Fujifilm 400H and Kodak Portra 400. In fact, I find myself struggling to decide if I should shoot with Fujifilm or Portra as both have their strengths and weaknesses but more on that later. The color profiles in combination with the Hasselblad’s bokeh and tack-sharp focus leaves little to be desired and further solidifies the 500 c/m as one of the most rewarding and intimate photographic experiences I’ve had in my life. Now, back to shooting before we're snowed in for the next four months.

All images were taken with the Hasselblad 500 C/M and the Carl Zeiss 80mm Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Explorations in Medium Format

It’s been almost a month since I decided to explore the world of Medium Format film photography. In the past three to four weeks I’ve accomplished a decent amount. For one, I was able to find a Hasselblad 500 c/m in perfect condition thanks to the insane antique camera market in Japan. In addition to acquiring the right camera, I tracked down an amazing photography lab, Richards Photo Lab (hereinafter RPL), courtesy of Johnny Patience (his blog is the best resource for Hasselblad film photography that I’ve found) and acquired a beautiful hand made camera strap thanks to New York’s Justin Waldinger of Tap & Dye. All that took three to four weeks? Yep.

One thing I’m learning, and very much appreciating, when it comes to film photography is: patience. I’m so conditioned to plug and play, run and gun, or whatever you want to call it. My Sony A7 Mark ii has a problem? Download the latest firmware. Did I nail the focus? Hold on while I chimp the beautiful high resolution screen. The Hasselblad has none of that. It’s literally a black box (albeit a gorgeous black box) with a piece of Zeiss glass that does all the work for you. No batteries, no in-camera metering system, no automatic film advancement, not even a dial to set the film speed. It’s such a different world from digital photography, and in some ways, for the better. Sure, there are things that I absolutely love and miss about digital photography, but I’ve never felt so connected to the art and craft of photography as I do when I’m shooting with my Hasselblad. Some may chalk this up to the honeymoon phase, and while I’m not sure that’s the case, we’ll have to see over the next six to twelve months. To be clear, I don't plan on converting to a film elitists, but I do plan on exploring the art of film photography as much (and maybe even more) than digital photography.

Significantly over-exposed due to improper hand metering, but still my favorite.

I received my first few rolls of film back from RPL the other day and my basic goal for the first six to twelve rolls is to find the preferred exposure. I’ve mentioned my interest and technical vs. creative analysis of exposure in previous posts and I’m currently going for a little bit of both. Technically, finding an appropriately acceptable exposure - exposing for the shadows, avoiding any muddy underexposed darks or blacks. Creatively, finding the appropriate amount of saturation and contrast - overexposing by at least two to three stops. Given that the Hasselblad offers little to no features outside of taking the photograph, I’ve been carrying around a journal and documenting the type of film, the metering settings, as well as the f-stop, shutter speed, and focal range. Metadata ftw.

My way of tracking the Hasselblad & Film stock metadata

To sum up my first few rolls, I’ve achieved half my goal. That half being the technical view of exposure given that not a single shot was underexposed. That said, I made some nearly critical mistakes in hand metering… I’ve experimented with film before - from a Canon AE-1 to Fuji Instax, however each of those cameras has mechanisms to help with metering. Hand metering is a whole different beast that I royally screwed up. In retrospect, it’s not very difficult at all, but having to learn to hand meter, turn various analog dials to compute the appropriate f-stop and shutter speed with no feedback mechanism didn’t go over very well the first few rolls! While I was able to avoid underexposing my photographs, I often overexposed way too much. Thankfully film, especially my choice of Portra 400 and Fuji 400H, have amazing latitude and allow for such significant overexposure without ruining the photograph.

Metered for shadows, but again, miscalculation = slight over-exposure and camera shake

Creatively, I don’t believe I’m there yet. That said, it's my first fifteen shots... Also, I believe finding your creative style with regard to film exposure will be much easier with film than with digital. Digital photographers, myself included, spend a good amount of time (those who say otherwise are lying. I promise.) finding that “look”. Whether it’s hand editing every photo in Lightroom, using self-made presets, exploring VSCO Film presets, or even applying Instagram filters… None of this matters with film photography. The choice of film is most likely the hardest creative decision you need to make. This philosophy aligns with my interest in further perfecting the shot within camera, regardless of digital or film, versus capturing an acceptable photograph and then spending time in post-processing. 

When using a Hasselblad 500 c/m and Kodak Portra or Fuji 400h, the color profiles are closer to my creative vision than any digital photograph I’ve ever taken.

I’m not sure if it’s medium format, film’s latitude (read: forgiveness), the Hasselblad’s Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 glass, or a combination of the three. While the photo’s I’ve posted aren’t quite there yet, I can already see how gorgeous my future photographs will be with regard to color profile and artistic look. And with regard to digital, it’s the opposite. I’m very proud of some of the digital photographs I’ve created, however there’s always *something* that just doesn’t seem right. Exploring the differences and commonalities between the Hasselblad and Sony A7 Mark ii has been a lot of fun and I'm hopeful I'll be able to further refine my vision both in film and digital.

For now, it’s back to the Hasselblad and refining the creative aspect of exposure.

All images were taken with the Hasselblad 500 C/M and the Carl Zeiss 80mm Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Three Weeks in Paris

My wife and I have been living in Paris, France for just over three weeks now. During this time, I've spent a majority of my waking moments exploring the city and refining my photography. Throughout these past weeks I've learned a great deal about my creative process as well as a better understanding of my vision moving forward. That said, I've also come to realize that photography, regardless of gear or inherent creative talent, is a life long pursuit.

As I continue to refine my approach to art and the elusive color profile, I'll be scanning and posting both photographic and written work here.

 

Moving to Paris

I've been reading a lot about the benefits and reasons for taking a sabbatical, specifically for those working in fast-paced creative environments. I myself am the type of creative who is always looking to improve, always wanting to provide the highest quality of work possible, and always willing to work the hours needed to get the job done. I love designing for the web, it's something i'm incredibly passionate about. That said, there's something about taking a step back from your work life and pursuing your own creative projects outside of the corporate world - creating something for yourself, something you can share with others, and ultimately something that will leave you feeling fulfilled and recharged for a return to day-to-day life.

My goal with la vie à Paris is to take a month off from day-to-day life to focus solely on experiencing Pairs, France and all it offers with my wife and my camera. We've always been bold in the sense of making things happen and taking chances and we've done just that for the past four years while exploring North America, Europe, Asia, and soon Africa. This project is the next step in our continued goal to explore as much of the world as we can.