NYC 2018 Workshop

It’s been some time since I last sat down to write about photography. Since then, Sam and I have traveled to London, Paris, and most recently Brooklyn where I met up with Johnny and Rebecca Patience for their NYC 2018 workshop at the Bushwick Community Darkroom. As for London and Paris, more to come once I’ve finished my selections and edits.

Johnny’s NYC workshop was centered around the goals of better understanding black and white film photography - more specifically, the relationship between exposures and density of negatives along with the importance of your workflow and approach in the darkroom. 

We spent the first day discussing your approach, philosophies behind metering, and spending some time taking photos throughout Bushwick. The second day was spent entirely in the darkroom where we reviewed our negatives, made selections, experimented with the enlarger, ran test strips, and finally narrowed in on our development times for our desired look and feel.

Having shot film for nearly four years now, it’s embarrassing to write that this was the first time I’ve stepped foot in a darkroom. I’ve always collaborated with Richard Photo Lab when it came to my film work including development, scanning, and fine art prints. And, while it sounds cliché, there really is a different feeling when developing your own work. It’s an art in and of itself and left me feeling both incredibly humbled yet inspired.

Needless to say, you can only begin to scratch the surface in a two day workshop, however I left New York City with a new appreciation for both B&W photography and the darkroom. And, the role that it can play in shaping my approach and my work.

All photographs were created with a Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Tri-X 400.

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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.

Chicago photo walk

Things have been pretty hectic since returning from New Zealand and Australia.

Sam and I have purchased our first condo which has had some impact on our travel and my photography workflow. Over the past few months, a majority of my photography equipment has been stored in boxes and moved from one location to another making it pretty difficult to make, edit and publish photographs. We've finally settled in to our new home and I've set up my new photography workspace.

While we were living out of boxes, I had an opportunity to meet up with Grace and Kevin Sears for coffee and a photo walk. Photo walks are easily one of my favorite parts of being a photographer. More specifically, meeting like-minded individuals who are equally passionate about creating art. While the weather was still a bit brisk, we spent a few hours visiting some of my favorite locations in Chicago while debating Kodak Tri-X vs. Ilford HP5 and discussing various tips and techniques. To view some of Kevin's amazing black and white photography, check out his Instagram or Lomography.

All photographs were created with the Hasselblad 500CM and the Carl Zeiss PlanarT* f/2.8 on Kodak Portra 400. All black and white photographs were created the Kevin's Leica MP and Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 on Ilford HP5. 

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.

Leica 135 Explorations

Since returning from Paris, I've mainly been exploring medium format film photography. So much so that I found myself shooting more and more with my Hasselblad and less with my Sony A7ii while Sam and I were in Africa. This experiment has continued to help me grow as a photographer and has since evolved in to an exploration of 135 film with the purchase of a Leica M6 and a Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2.0. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter in tracking down a near mint condition Leica M6 from the original Leitz Factory. I decided to invest in a new Summircon-M 50mm f/2.0 given that both the M6 and the Sony A7ii mounts will support the lens and it's a piece of glass that I plan to have the rest of my life. Needless to say, this was not a typical purchase for me and it was part of my #30before30 that my dear friend Jimmy Watson often reminds me of.

There are many things that I've learned in a short period of time about shooting film that help me better understand the craftsmanship behind creating a photograph - especially when you're shooting with a Hasselblad 500 c/m or Leica M. That said, I'm not sure I see a use case where I walk away from shooting digital altogether, rather I find myself shooting more of a mix of both formats which manifests in carrying a Sony A7ii and either the Hasselblad or Leica when I'm out creating photographs. One of the most important aspects of shooting film beyond the craftsmanship is the ability to truly focus on the scene resulting in more intimate photographs. Focus in the sense that both the Hasselblad and Leica cameras are so incredibly simple to use and provide only the basic elements required - aperture, shutter speeds and focal distance. Compare these minimalist designs to a camera like the Sony A7ii that have every possible bell and whistle you can image which can be critical in certain low light moments but more often than not provide an overwhelming amount choices and second guessing when in the field. Furthermore, while these cameras are dead simple they're also some of the most beautiful cameras I've used in my life.

Craftsmanship in having to work for my image, focus and simplicity all lead to a more present experience and more intimate photographs which is why I continue to find shooting film more and more rewarding. I've decided to take some time away from my sole remaining social network in Instagram to continue this focus on creating stronger photographs rather than releasing photographs for likes, comments and shares. I'll be releasing a few selects from time to time on my blog, but plan to share a larger body of work in the new year. In the meantime, here are a few of my first photographs with the Leica.

All photographs were created with the Leica M6 and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2.0 on Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. All images were scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California.