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

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

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.