Winter Is Coming

With Fall in full swing, I've started to shift from constantly shooting to reviewing, refining and reflecting on where I am with my photography work. While Fall is still one of my favorite times of year, Winter requires a bit of preparation - especially those months where there's not much to do other than trying to stay warm. I've grown to enjoy winter because it allows me to focus on aspects of photography that don't necessarily require a camera but are equally as important.

Since returning from Paris a year ago, I've continued the overall goal of refining my vision by exploring 135 and 120 film formats as well as printing my work in various formats with the help of Richard Photo Lab. These areas of focus have resulted in significant growth with regard to creative exposure, understanding the nuances between digital and film photography, and understanding the complexities of fine art prints. In addition to learning a great deal, I've finally reached a point where I'm sending portfolio pieces to print as large format fine art prints. The image below is a rough contact sheet of my original selects and final decisions.

Looking ahead, Sam and I will be traveling to Australia and New Zealand in February. That said, one of my goals this winter will be to learn more about the creative process behind Astrophotography (with the help of Ian Norman over at Lonely Speck) given that we'll be spending a majority of our trip exploring the Southern Island. In addition to Astrophotography, I plan on learning more about the technical aspects of digital camera sensors. More specifically - after shooting 135 and 120 film and achieving stunning results out of the camera, I'm interested in better understanding why digital photography images are initially flat out of the camera and how I might be able to achieve more film-like color profiles when shooting digital. 

All photographs were created with the Sony A7 Mark ii and Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8ZA, the Leica M6 and Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2, and the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

South Africa

One night over drinks, Sam and I decided that we wanted to travel the world. And, over the past two years, we've found ourselves exploring nearly every continent including a temporary living arrangement in Paris. While visiting Japan was the number one country on my bucket list, South Africa was the number one on Sam's so we decided to plan a big trip away from the brutal Chicago winter and spend several weeks in South Africa. Needless to say, Africa is a massive continent and even though we spent several weeks in South Africa, we left feeling like we had hardly scratched the surface of a country let alone a continent.

We began our trip in the Northeast corner of South Africa, just south of the Mozambique border in Kruger National Park. We stayed on a beautiful game reserve for four nights and spent nearly every waking moment on safari game drives and photographing African wildlife. It's hard to describe the feelings you experience when driving through the African bush in an open-air off road vehicle and pulling up next to a Lion - it's a mix of awe and absolute understanding and respect for who is in charge at the moment. In addition to amazing wildlife photography and observation, we had a run in with a few aggressive African Elephants. As we quickly learned, you're powerless in those situations resulting in us having to sit in complete silence and wait to see if the Elephants wanted to provoke us or move on about their day. Luckily, they chose the latter.

After spending a good amount of time in the African bush, we flew to Cape Town where we spent the rest of our trip. Cape Town has a little bit of everything - from gorgeous wine country to Cape Point views and amazing food and culture. One of my absolute favorite parts of Cape Town is the small community of Bo-Kaap. Everything about Bo-Kaap is worth visiting - the colors, community, architecture and historical significance within a country like South Africa. Beyond Bo-Kaap, the stunning views at Cape Point were worth the trip alone and at the time of this writing, the furthest south we've ever been however this will change with our upcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia. While we felt we only scratched the surface of this country during our stay, South Africa seems like it has a little something for everyone. 

For additional photographs, refer to my South Africa on Film post.

All photographs were created 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 Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G OSS. 

Kodak Portra 400

Most weekends I find myself waking up early, enjoying a cup of coffee with my wife and spending time with my photography. This time can span editing, photography or reflecting on things I've learned recently. That said, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of my most recent learning with Kodak Portra 400.

I've spent the past few months exploring medium format film photography in addition to refining my creative style in photography. While the former has yielded significant learning and growth in a short period of time, the former has been a work in progress for the past five or six years with the most significant growth being the last two to three years.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I expect my creative style to continue to evolve as I gain a deeper and more advanced understanding of the craft. That said, I believe photography will be a life long learning process and I don't expect to ever experience a moment where I feel I've stopped learning or growing as a photographer.

Kodak Portra has been an amazing discovery for me and has helped me grow quite a bit these past few years, but it wasn't until I really began exploring the depths of Portra 400 over the past few months that I truly started to grow. More specifically, I've started to analyze the slight nuances of various Kodak Portra 400 stock variations including Kodak Portra 400, Portra 400 NC (Natural Colors), Portra 400 VC (Vivid Colors) and Portra 400 UC (Ultra Color). Kodak has a great overview if you're interested reading a more technical specification of each film stock.

While some of these variations are no longer produced as film stock, I've had to rely on digital color profiles. My preferred option at the time of this writing is VSCO Film Pack 02. When shooting film, I've been using Kodak Portra 400, but when shooting digital I'll work within the color profiles provided in the VSCO film pack. One of my goals as a photographer is to continue to refine my exposures and significantly limit my post-processing (both in time and effort) by capturing the best image straight out of the camera. SOOC is one of my favorite aspects of shooting Portra Film on my Hasselblad. The images that camera produces are so beautiful and require zero post-processing. As for the Sony A7 Mark ii, I've found it best to focus on capturing the best image SOOC and then applying the VSCO profile and adjusting only the Exposure and White Balance as necessary.

While Portra is positioned as Portraiture and Wedding film stock, I've found it to be an amazing film for everything from Portraiture to Street and even Landscape. As with any film, there are certain scenarios where it truly shines and others where it struggles a bit, but I've found Portra 400 to be the best all around film both in latitude of exposure and look and feel. When I first started shooting film I really wanted to love Fujicolor Pro 400H, however it hasn't resonated with me as much as Portra. Maybe that will change over time, but the whites and natural tones I capture with Portra 400 and Portra 400 UC are hard to beat. When comparing Portra 400 and Fuji 400H using the same photo, I tend to find truer whites with Portra where Fuji 400H casts a more creamy, even magenta-like, tone to the overall image. There are some insanely beautiful images captured with Fuji 400H which leads me to think I either have not found the best way to expose with this film or simply put it doesn't align with how I create images. 

I took a photograph this morning and applied the various VSCO color profiles of Portra 400 to help visualize some of the nuances mentioned above. In my opinion, Fuji 400H would align much closer to the cream and magenta tones found in Portra 400 VC. I've been very pleased with the Portra 400 and Portra 400 UC images below and believe they align closer to my creative style while maintaining the reality of the scene. The big difference between the Portra 400 and Portra 400 UC images is the warmth. Portra 400 has a much stronger classic blue Kodak tint to it, while Portra 400 UC has a bit of warm, but not to the extent of creating strong cream or magenta tones found in Portra 400 VC or an equivalent Fuji 400H.

I'll continue to experiment with Fujifilm Pro 400H but in the meantime will be spending a great deal of time shooting with Portra 400, both with my Hasselblad and Sony A7 Mark ii.

All photographs below were taking with the Sony A7 Mark ii and Sony Sonnar  T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA. All images were processed using Adobe Lightroom and VSCO Film Kodak Portra 400 color profiles.

Kodak Portra 400 Color Profile, SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Kodak Portra 400 UC (Ultra Color), SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Kodak Portra 400 NC (Natural Colors), SOOC, A7 Mark ii

Kodak Portra 400 VC (Vivid Colors), SOOC, A7 Mark ii