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.

New Zealand & Australia

It feels good to be traveling again.

Sam and I recently returned from a New Zealand and Australia where we spent time connecting with a good friend who moved to Australia a few years ago and exploring two new countries on our bucket list. It's crazy to think that our last big trip was Africa which felt so long ago, but this past year has been a bit of a blur to say the least. That said, we were still able to find a few smaller albeit equally exciting trips including Avalon with our family and NYCWLK with Johnny and Rebecca Patience.

We began our trip on a long haul flight from LAX to SYD and spent the next few days in Sydney. With a majority of our New Zealand itinerary focused on the more remote South Island we decided to spend our time in Sydney exploring the amazing food scene and various neighborhoods with Surry Hills being my favorite. We dealt with a lot of less than ideal weather in Sydney, but were still able to enjoy ourselves as well as connect with a good friend who I hadn't seen in several years after she decided to move to Sydney. After a few days in Sydney, we were off to the South Island of New Zealand.

For starters, New Zealand was one of the most difficult locations for me when it comes to photography. Places like Tokyo, Cape Town, Beijing, San Miguel de Allende, and Paris are filled with so many people, so much energy, not to mention different languages and customs. But the South Island of New Zealand has far fewer people and leaves you with nothing but some of the most unbelievably beautiful landscapes for as far as you can see. In many ways, the landscapes and views were impossible to accurately capture in a photograph. For the first time since picking up a camera, I found myself spending less time making photographs and more time taking in the views and the incredible star-filled night skies. We spent nearly two weeks throughout the South Island - from Queenstown to Milford Sound, Queensberry, and Wanaka before flying to Auckland and then returning to Los Angeles. Aside from some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen, the people were some of the most welcoming and down to earth individuals I've met since I started traveling and it was not easy leaving such a beautiful and hospitable country.

Up next, Spain and Portugal in September.

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.   

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

Avalon

Sam and I recently took a trip to Avalon, a small East Coast beach town just north of Cape May. I was incredibly excited to visit this particular beach given that Sam grew up vacationing here as a child and I’ve heard about it and their family stories ever since we first met. Avalon offered a relaxing small town experience with beautiful views and long days filled with reading, napping and lounging at the beach.

Avalon was the first trip where I left my Sony A7 Mark ii at home and only shot film. It was an amazing experience to leave behind the chargers, memory cards, and all the other tedious albeit amazing technology that photographers have access to today. That said, brining two fully mechanical film cameras allowed me to be present and experience more during my trip with my wife and our family.

Leaving digital behind for a week was far easier than I imagined it would be and I find that to be a little unsettling. To make things more complicated, the results I got from both my Leica and Hasselblad are outstanding and require only a few minor edits straight out of the camera. I’ll be working with Richard Photo Lab next week to try and have these minor edits handled during scanning so my workflow evolves to just shooting. No edits. My hope is to find a digital workflow that allows me to find similar tones and depth that I find when shooting Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400 and while I’ve found an approach that I really enjoy, it’s nowhere near the look of film.

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.

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.

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