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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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.

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.