Winter Road Trip

It’s been a while since I sat down to write about my photography, but what I’ve lacked in writing, I’ve certainly made up for with photographs. This year I’ve been focusing on growth, specifically the imperfection and failure of my photography by pursuing a 365 project. I’ve been forcing myself to shoot daily with my Fuji X100F and my Leica M6, but I’ll share more about that project later this year.

Since starting a 365 project, Sam and I continued our winter tradition of traveling to a warm climate. We spent a little over a week this past winter taking a road trip through the desert. We started in Phoenix where we caught a few Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers Spring Training baseball games before taking a few days to drive through Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Park. After Joshua Tree, we arrived in Palm Springs for a few days where we enjoyed a beautiful bed and breakfast before driving to Los Angeles to visit my little brother, Michael, and enjoy some of his favorite food spots.

The light and color palette throughout Arizona and California was incredible. Many photographers speak about the light in Southern California and this was the first time I had visited long enough to truly take advantage of it. Each morning was filled with soft and subtle pinks, oranges, and yellows which complement my preference for color film, especially Kodak Portra 400. Mid-day was often filled with an overwhelming amount of white light that forced us to be a bit more creative when it came to medium format exposures. Even modern-day sensors and shutter speeds up to 1/4000 needed to be stopped down. Sunsets and even dusk brought beautiful and deep reds, purples, and blues. Overall, it was a significant shift from having to shoot in the cloudy winter months of the Midwest. 

While we enjoyed our time on the road in the US, the hours behind the wheel gave me plenty of time to reflect on many things including how much we’ve missed international travel, and the need for us to get back at it.

Up next, London and Paris. What's next for you?

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400 or the Fuji X100F and the Fujinon 23mm f/2.

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Japan Camera Hunter: In Your Bag

I was recently featured in Bellamy Hunt’s In Your Bag series on his blog. If you haven’t checked out his website, Japan Camera Hunter, I highly recommend it. Bellamy is great to work with if you’re looking for a rare or very specific camera. He also created his own line of film, JCH, in both 135 and 120 and offers various camera accessories.

To read my feature on Japan Camera Hunter, check out Bellamy’s site or read the excerpt below.  

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In your bag No: 1545 – Johnny Schroepfer

Johnny packs some wunderbar glass in his bag when he’s globe trotting, check it out.

Hey, I’m Johnny Schroepfer and I’m a Chicago-based designer and photographer with a passion for travel. I’ve spent the last several years traveling the world and documenting different cultures and its people with my camera and my best friend and wife, Samantha. From Europe to Africa to Asia, I find travel to be a primary inspiration and focus in my photography. After traveling the world, I can still say that Tokyo is my absolute favorite city (and that’s not just because of all the camera gear!).

I had the pleasure of working with Bellamy after my return from Africa in which he tracked down a beautiful mint condition Leica M6. I absolutely love having the Leitz badge as it creates a lot of conversation with fellow Leica geeks. I’ve been shooting the M6 with a Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 lens which leaves little to be desired. In addition to my M6, I shoot a good amount of medium format on my Hasselblad 500 C/M which was a gift from my wife when we were living in Paris, France. I pair the 500 C/M with the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 which is an absolutely breathtaking lens.

It’s been fun watching the Japan Camera Hunter community grow and I enjoy reading all the In Your Bag articles and learning about various set ups and collections. Keep up the great work, Bellamy & Co.

A Life of Travel

As 2017 comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on all that occurred with my photography this year including exploring New Zealand, Australia, and sending my first two photo books to print. For those of you interested in seeing some of my New Zealand and Australia work, check out my post from March 2017

I’ve previously written about A Life in Paris, but I spent part of this year revisiting the book and refining some of the edits, layout and quotes which resulted in a reprint. In addition to reprinting A Life in Paris, I completed my second book A Life of Travel which documents the past five years of international travel including select photographs and writing from San Miguel de Allende, Tokyo, Kyoto, Beijing, Nice, Paris, Cape Town, Kruger National Park, Wanaka, Sydney, and Queenstown

Both of these books required an incredible amount of time and effort but I’m very happy with the final work and it was a pleasure revisiting all of the moments through my photographs and journal entries. I’ve included both cover photos as well as a preview from each book.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss PlanarT* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400 or the Sony A7R Mark ii, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony T* FE 35mm f/28, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OOS and Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2.0.   

A Life of Travel  Cover

A Life of Travel Cover

A Life of Travel  Sample

A Life of Travel Sample

A Life in Paris  Cover

A Life in Paris Cover

A Life in Paris  Sample

A Life in Paris Sample

Film Workflow

I've been working with Richard Photo Lab for a little over a year at this point and I've started to dial in the final look I've been envisioning this past year. While I'm incredibly excited that all of the time, effort, learnings, failed photos and conversations with my lab have led me to a desirable outcome and more enjoyable in-the-moment shooting experience, in retrospect it's pretty simple.

One of the strange aspects of the photography community is how secretive everyone is about how they shoot and achieve their final results. Instagram, blogs, YouTube videos, and meets up are filled with questions along the line of: "What camera do you use?", "What were your settings for that shot?", "What's your post workflow look like?", "What presets do you use?", etc. These questions are rarely, if ever, truthfully answered. I've always found that to be strange in a community that is inherently collaborative and social, especially all of these Instagram photographs who aren't shooting major commercial contracts.

Of course, there are exceptions, my personal favorite being Johnny Patience, who has blogged in detail about everything from how he shoots film, works with his lab, and even allows you to use his color settings. Matt Day is another photographer who has recently provided a brief albeit insightful video to his film workflow. So, I've decided to share a detailed view of my film workflow in order to help those who may be looking for that one insightful idea that helps them refine their creative vision. In a way, I wouldn't be where I am today from a creative perspective without the help of people like Johnny Patience.

When I first decided to take photography more seriously, one of the biggest mistakes I made was the idea that I could do most of the work after I took the photo - in Lightroom, Photoshop, name your tool. The web is flooded with the benefits of shooting RAW, the power of new mirrorless cameras, digital sensor technology and creative presets. And, they're right. Modern cameras and post processing tools are incredibly powerful but they don't help me achieve the final look I'm after. If you're shooting HDR, panoramas, or more conceptual work - go for it. That said, focusing on the how rather than the why you're taking the photo was my first big mistake. Secondly, spending time after you take the photograph is time intensive and unfulfilling. In retrospect, it took me years and 1,000s of failed photographs to learn how to see light as well as learn that you need to strive for the best possible results, preferably 95% of your desired look, in camera and not rely on the technology.

With those to principles in mind, let's break them down one at a time. First, being able to see light is critical and, unfortunately, can't really be taught. I'm convinced this is a life long pursuit as I'm always learning, failing and uncovering new approaches to each situation. There are amazing tutorials, books, and videos on all the types of light and how to approach them but you ultimately need to experience them, see them, and fail to truly understand how to approach each shot. For the purposes of this post, I'll sum up an impossible lesson in a few key scenarios that I often seek out: window light indoors (no artificial lights on), shade during a intense/bright sunny day, backlit subjects, cloudy/overcast days, morning and evening golden hours.

When shooting in these situations, I always intentionally overexpose with film (rate Kodak Portra 400 at 200) or expose to the right with digital photography (usually +0.75 to +1.25, depending on the amount of available light). There are endless debates about "Film: expose for the shadows", "Digital: expose for the highlights", however my aesthetic tends to be bright, pastel-like photographs, so I always expose for the shadows, even at the cost of lightly blown highlights in digital. That's it - I take the time to view the light in the situation, typically shoot wide open with prime lenses at f/1.8f/2.0, or f/2.8, compose the photograph in Manual or Aperture Priority, make sure I'm slightly overexposed but not losing too much detail, and take the photograph.

Once I receive my film scans or digital files, I spend about thirty seconds to a few minutes on each photograph. Those few minutes are mostly spent brightening whites, darkening blacks for both aesthetic and contrast preferences. In addition to whites and blacks, I may slightly adjust the temperature to be slightly cooler as Kodak Portra 400 can tend to create yellowish tones or make the photograph warmer than I'd like. If any additional edits are required, it's typically bringing up the shadows and adjusting the exposure to ensure I'm achieving my bright, pastel-like look. My aesthetic is very much in alignment with Kodak Portra 400 when shooting film and I do my best to achieve similar results in my digital photography. That said, even with the technology we have today, film still provides a depth and aesthetic that can't be achieved with digital. I'm hopeful that concepts like Fuji's Classic Chrome will be the answer, but I'm not convinced.

Below are examples of my workflow in practice from my recent trip to Avalon. I've provided both the original film scan (ie. straight out of the camera) on the left and the final edit on the right. In addition to before and after, each image includes the histogram and basic Lightroom edits required to achieve the final look. Since focusing on the best possible in-camera results, I've never used features outside of the Basic tab in Lightroom which allows me to spend less time behind a computer and more time enjoying photography. If you have specific questions, leave a comment.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 or the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.  

I enjoy bright photographs and I tend to over-expose / expose to the right in both digital & film 

I enjoy bright photographs and I tend to over-expose / expose to the right in both digital & film 

Leica M6, Summicron-M 50mm f/2, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200

Leica M6, Summicron-M 50mm f/2, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Leica M6, Summicron-M 50mm f/2, Kodak Tri-X 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80, Kodak Portra 400, Rated @ 200 ISO

NYCWLK 2.0

After our trip to Avalon, Sam and I took the train from Philly to New York for the second annual NYCWLK in Brooklyn with Johnny Patience and his wife, Rebecca. It was an amazing experience and I’m truly grateful I had the opportunity to meet, learn from and shoot alongside someone I find incredibly inspiring in one of the best street photography cities in the world.

In addition to meeting Johnny and Rebecca, Sam and I had the opportunity to meet other film, digital and hybrid photographers from around the world. This truly was a special weekend for me given my decision to pick film back up last year. And, aside from the creative refinements I was looking for, Johnny was a big motivating factor to making the addition of film to my workflow.

It had been awhile since I was last in New York and I found myself amazed with how large the city is and how little one could actually know about a city they’ve visited numerous times throughout their life. The NYCWLK also happened to be during the September 11th fifteen year anniversary weekend and it was a weird mix of emotion, both for myself and the city. I’ve never experienced such a quiet and somber weekend in New York.

All photographs were created with either the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 or the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.

Six Months with the Hasselblad 500CM

It's been roughly six months since I started shooting with a Hasselblad 500C/M and experimenting with medium format film photography. I'm grateful to have found both Johnny Patience's blog and Jonathan Canlas' Film is Not Dead as primary inspirations for pursuing this aspect of photography and I believe that I've grown more in the past six months than I have in the past three years. Learning to slow down, envision the end result, manually meter and shoot with fully mechanical manual cameras has been a crucial part in my growth as a maker. And, it's been a lot of fun. 

With a Hasselblad, I've learned that you really have to work to create quality photographs and while it's a much slower process, it elevates your craft across all of your other cameras including digital. Below are three photographs straight out of the camera, the first being my first photograph with the Hasselblad, the second from my first roll shot on my Hasselblad in November '15 and the third being a similar photograph from my most recent roll in May '16. I'm incredibly pleased with my most recent results and have slowly learned every detail of this camera and Kodak Portra 400. 

All photographs were created with the Hasselblad 500CM 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.

First photograph taken with the Hasselblad

First photograph taken with the Hasselblad

First roll shot on my Hasselblad in November

First roll shot on my Hasselblad in November

Latest roll shot on Hasselblad in May

Latest roll shot on Hasselblad in May

South Africa on Film

Sam and I spent the last few weeks exploring South Africa and escaping the winter weather in Chicago. South Africa was the first large trip with the Hasselblad 500CM and it did not disappoint. While a majority of the photographs created on our trip were with the Sony A7 Mark ii, I wanted to take a moment to post some of my select photographs from the Hasselblad before writing a more in-depth post covering South Africa as a whole. 

Throughout our trip, I carried both the Sony A7 Mark ii and the Hasselblad in an Ona Bowery and I found myself reaching for the Hasselblad more and more. Shooting with a Hasselblad feels like the ultimate user experience when it comes to creating photographs and I find myself becoming more and more invested in film. I've talked about this at length before, however the experience of shooting with this camera coupled with the colors and depth of the scans are forcing me to consider if digital should take a back seat to my film cameras - especially with a Leica M6 and Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on the way. The Leica will hopefully resolve some of the issues with the Hasselblad, specifically when wanting to shoot outside of a 1:1 ratio and being able to bring the camera up to my eye rather than composing at waist level. In addition to the experience, colors and depth - film, including the shots below, are nearly straight out of the camera requiring very little time sitting at a computer. While the Sony A7 Mark ii creates stunning end results, it requires a bit more time reviewing and making minor adjustments to such large RAW files.

Needless to say, South Africa was an amazing experience with gorgeous views making it a trip for any photography enthusiast. I've just started to review and write a post covering our adventures, but with the amazing turn around time at Richard Photo Lab, I had to take a moment to share some of South Africa on film.

All photographs were created with the Hasselblad 500CM 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.

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.