ONA Bags: Photographer Profile Feature

While traveling throughout Australia and New Zealand last month, ONA Bags released a Photographer Profile feature that we had been collaborating on the previous few weeks. It was a pretty humbling experience to be interviewed by a company I've admired since picking up a camera, especially when considering some of the photographers and artists they've collaborated with in the past.

All of this began when I met some of the ONA team this past September in Brooklyn during Johnny and Rebecca Patience's NYCWLK. They noticed that Sam and I both were using ONA Bags that day during the photowalk and we ended up talking cameras, bags and eventually sharing some of my work. Since meeting in Brooklyn, we've kept in touch and decided to collaborate on a Photographer Profile interview for their blog. In addition to our collaboration, they sent me their brand new product, The Bond Street, which is a perfect complement to my Union Street and Bowery. You can read a few excerpts below or the full Photographer Profile interview on their blog.

We’re excited to debut a new format for our community profiles, comprised of nineteen questions that almost every creative individual can answer, along with a “lightning round” of less serious questions at the end. Our first subject is Johnny Schroepfer, who we met along with his wife Sam at a photo walk last September. Share your photos by tagging #ONAbags to be featured.

Name: Johnny Schroepfer

Hometown: I grew up in Dallas, Texas before moving to Chicago, Illinois

Describe your aesthetic in five words or less: Travel, Authentic, Clean, Candid, Bright

Go-to gear: Recently, I’ve been shooting a lot with the Sony a7R Mark iiSony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f1/.8, and the ONA Leather Bowery.

Favorite place to photograph: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Biggest creative influence: Robert Frank

Thing you can’t live without: Hasselblad 500CM with a Carl Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f/2.8 that was a gift from my wife, Sam.

What motivates you: Exploring new places and cultures, documenting small moments in our daily lives, creating a body of work that reflects the experiences I’ve had throughout my life.

Time of day are you most creative: Early Morning

Biggest challenge: Avoiding hibernation mode and forcing myself to shoot more during the brutal Chicago winters.

One piece of advice that stuck with you: I think making photos all time time, even when you don’t feel like it, is critical to developing one’s creative vision and growing as an artist. Its those times when you don’t feel like shooting that are arguably the most important.

Mistake you’ve learned from: Believing that post processing can offset creative vision.

Work you are most proud of: My most recent project, A Life in Paris, which is a book that highlights a selection of my favorite photographs made while living in Paris, France in 2015.

Most used phrase: “Can you come look at this?” whether it’s asking my wife, Sam, about final edits I’m sending to print or coworkers about a design problem I’m working on.

Earliest memory: Playing in my backyard with my older brother

Hidden talent: I’m incredibly passionate about music and can play several instruments.

Dream project: Collaborating with a non-profit that I’m passionate about and actively involved with like charity: water or the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC). I’d love to travel back to Africa, but this time on a photography assignment to help raise awareness about clean and safe drinking water in developing nations.

Most recent “a-ha” moment: Committing to learning the art of printing your work. Whether you shoot film, digital, or both, I believe that you’re significantly limiting yourself as an artist if you don’t take the time to print your work. I’ve been working with Richard Photo Lab in California for a little over a year now and this collaboration has helped strengthen my relationship and love for the art of photography. And, it has helped me grow as an artist in how I approach both digital and film photography.

Goal for 2017: Publish a book containing a selection of my favorite photographs made while traveling the world with my wife, Sam, these past few years. We’ve traveled from North America to Europe, to Asia, and Africa. We’ll be visiting New Zealand, Australia, Portugal and Spain this year and my goal once we return from our travels is to review the tens of thousands of photographs that have been made throughout the past few years and create something of meaning to share with our close friends, family and maybe even some of you.

Lightning round: 

Sweet or savory: Savory

Childhood celebrity crush: Natalie Portman

Cats or dogs: Dogs

Favorite album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

Favorite book: Anything by Neal Stephenson

Biggest fear: Flying

New Year

Sam and I spent Christmas in Dallas this year with my family and a majority of our time was focused on the most recent addition to the family, Myles. Looking back on 2016, it was an odd year to say the least but there were some pretty great moments throughout the year as well. That said, I can't think of a better way to spend the last few days of the year than to enjoy a few good meals, movies and quality time with family.

2017 will no doubt be a big year for photography, and for travel. Our plans include traveling to New Zealand, Australia, Spain and Portugal. In addition to travel, I plan to print my second, and most significant, photography project which includes select photographs made during the past five years of traveling the world. From North America to Europe to Africa and Asia. My previous project, A Life in Paris, focuses on the time we spent living in Paris, France in 2015.

All photographs were created with the Sony a7R Mark ii, the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA and the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8

Thanksgiving

Sam and I spent Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh this year and it was filled with quality family time and holiday festivities. For me, the holidays are often some of the hardest times for me to consistently shoot. I often fail to balance making time to shoot with focusing my energy on family time. More specifically, I'm very cognizant of how much time I spend with a camera in my hand when visiting with people I only get to see a handful of times a year. That said, I know there's a balance and it's something I've been working towards over the past few years with this Thanksgiving being a success.

For starters, Carl, my father-in-law, recently had his BMW Z3 repainted and I had the opportunity to create a few photographs of both the car and a few portraits of him the day he got it back from the shop. To say he was nervous about seeing the car for the first time after it was painted would be an understatement. If there's one thing I know about my farther-in-law, it's how much this man loves his sports car. This was incredibly special moment for me because I had the opportunity to both document the newly painted car and create a few portraits of Carl, which is a rare treat. I few of the select photographs are below and I plan to create a few large format prints for Carl to keep.

In addition to documenting the restored BMW Z3, we spent some time outside of Pittsburgh searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Having grown up in the south, I'm never fully prepared for how beautiful the northeast can be, especially outside of major cities - the rolling hills, colorful foliage and sleepy morning fog represent the ideal environment for me. And, now matter how many times I've seen these views, I'm never fully prepared to experience them each year during the holidays. The entire family spent all morning searching the farmland for our perfect tree and we found two - one for Sam's parents and the other for my sister-in-law and her boyfriend.

All photographers were created with the Leica M6 and 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.

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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

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.

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.

Beginner's Mind

I love traveling and I love creating photographs, but one of the hardest components of photography is when I'm not traveling - when I'm forced to photograph my neighborhood. Don't get me wrong, Sam and I live in a beautiful city and right on Lake Michigan. That said, most of us fall in to the trap of getting too comfortable or taking for granted what you see day in and day out which leads to feeling less inspired or compelled to create photographs on a daily basis.

There's a really interesting concept in Zen Buddhism called Soshin or "beginner's mind" which forces us to be present, completely open and accepting of everything around us. I find this concept to be particularly relevant to both photography and travel, especially when what you're shooting or exploring is something you've grown accustomed to. There are many people out there that believe great photographs can only be created during once and lifetime trips or events. Below are a few photographs created over the course of several weekends, all within walking distance from my home and practicing the concept of beginner's mind.

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

Photo Essay: My Livable City

When I first started working at my current design studio, I gave a brief presentation on travel photography and some basic guiding principles for creating more compelling photographs. After my presentation, I was approached by a coworker about an opportunity to write a photo essay for My Livable City around the theme of resiliency.

I immediately thought of both Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, South Africa and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico as two great examples of communities that have been resilient in the face of global economic change, tourism and rampant consumerism. Below is digital copy of my first published photo essay. Thanks again to Amrita for the opportunity to contribute.

The Print

Around December 2013, I decided to travel the world and pick a camera back up. 

Prior to that decision, I hadn't really photographed much since 2008 and while I've consistently traveled my whole life, I wasn't making it a priority nor was I traveling to the bucket list locations that I had dreamt of while growing up. Since December 2013, I've traveled to some of the most amazing places and have created a few thousand photographs along the way. From Europe to Africa to Asia, I've experienced some of the most amazing cultures and its people and while I've extensively documented it, I have yet to make an actual print.

I first started thinking about the print process while living in Paris, France in September 2015. At that point, I felt really great about where I was with my craft and vision but made a list of the areas I felt were holding me back. The three topics that I felt I needed to focus on were: 1) shooting manual, 2) learning to shoot film and 3) printing my work and I've dedicated the past eight months on those three topics and have made great progress. Being interested in technology and working in digital product design, I always felt that viewing the photograph on the screen and storing my photographs on hard drives and associated back ups would be sufficient. But after reading a few inspirational books (including Ansel Adams' The Print) and speaking with professional photographers who can no longer access digital backups from years ago due to evolving technology, I realized that I was holding myself back in both creative expression and technical understanding of the craft.

While shooting manual film cameras has been my main focus this year, I've started to lean in to printing some of my work. At its core, printing is a whole new world including vocabulary, color profile considerations and a bit of an art when it comes to translating digital files on a screen to a fine art print in your hand. It's been frustrating, time consuming but ultimately incredibly rewarding and I feel as though I've grown more in the past few weeks than I have since I moved back from Paris. I've been working closely with my film lab, Richard Photo Lab, on determining the best paper stock, file sizes, print formats and archiving methods and I'm finally at a place where I can create my first ten to twelve fine art pieces for my portfolio.

Printing, along with anything photography related, will be a life long process but I'm very excited to be moving forward with the prints below and grateful to have decided to expand my understanding of the craft beyond the camera and computer screen. 

All photographs were created with the Sony A7 Mark ii, Sony A7, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA and Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4.0 ZA OSS.  

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Nice, France

Nice, France

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France