The red light I am referring to is not the one Sting sings of in “Roxanne.” I am referring to the safe light in a dark room (even though most are actually amber).
For the past three months I have shot almost exclusively with film.
Using film has made photography more romantic. Digital seems like a cheap date compared to the tonal range you can capture with a frame of Ilford FP4 125 or the sharpness of Delta 100. Using film exclusively for a period of time and then picking up the digital again must feel like what a fine chef felt when the microwave appeared, or what a secretary felt when they were introduced to a PC; it is so much easier it feels cheap.
While incredibly time consuming, the images you capture, develop, enlarge, crop, dodge, burn—they become an extension of yourself, something a mouse and bright LCD flat panel screen have a harder time doing.
I would like to leave behind the notion that film has no place in modern photographic art. Indeed color on a digital is exceptional; however, black and white just does not have soul that a nice piece of fiber based paper that has been dunked in acids and bases does.
Below are a few film images that have been scanned (accounting for the dust).
Shadows can be powerful. I have found two examples that I feel capitalize on what a strong light ratio can accomplish.
The first example I wish replicate is the people (from the 1950s, I want to believe). Because of how shadows are used, we have no need to see their expressions on their faces. In fact, I am more interested in the man’s hat. The posture communicates everything we need to know, so that our imagination takes over without even a grumble; in fact, my imagination begs to take over.
My attempt to replicate the success of the silhouettes kissing is with the girl on the stairs. What I like about it is that her silhouette is sharp and that my mind imagines that she is very organized and active. Call it judging, but the tidy pony tail and the stainless bottle coupled with the fact that she is holding the bottle out and not at her side indicated to me an awareness of balance (not to mention she might not want to spill). She is poised for class, not just because she just finished yoga, but because she has an extraordinary set of color coded notes ready for class
The second photo I wish to replicate is the potato masher, an often forgotten or misunderstood kitchen utensil. This photograph is successful because the photographer makes the ordinary intriguing. This photo might be sold at a kitchen gadget store—something to hang in a 6×6 square frame above the stove, to remind you to be creative with whatever’s in your hand (even if you have no idea what it is).
My attempt to mimic the masher with a fork didn’t turn out as I had hoped. I tried and tried to make the shadows darker. I do like how the tines of the fork are larger. I had a few with some light reflected back on the handle, hoping to give more texture to the circley bits, but it removed the intended tine shadows and invited me to take smaller bites. Not sure how to improve this one.
After dinner I took my dog for a walk and attempted to fuss with the rules a little more and found it difficult to break them. When I would, the pictures looked, well, lackluster and very erasable. I brought in one more general guideline to fuss with: the one about not shooting directly at the sun. I saw my dog laying there and I thought, “what if I used the lens flare to lead from corner to corner.” It seems to work. Although I did have to under expose by two stops to keep contrast.
Trying to make lines distractingly tasteful, I photographed a swing set. In the end, I found them clean and leading. I guess I am just a “color in the lines” kind of guy.
Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.
Or, do we? Roads and rules not only begin with r’s, they also serve a similar function: to help find our way.
There is a reason that “rules” for good composition exist. They are not meant to detract from creativity, but rather give it an order that enhances artistic pleasure; for this reason, I have a hard time challenging them. Two rules that I feel compelled to challenge are the need for a deep depth of field in a landscape and the need to avoid distracting lines. Of course, I respect both of these rules; I do not intend to nullify their importance. Certain types of composition demand their use; besides, guidelines for good composition were not birthed by simply someone saying it once; they came about through years of critical photo analysis and examining which elements made a more tasteful and desirable image.
The following pictures represent masters of their craft “coloring in the lines.” Joel Sartore makes a clean image of a child in leaves with no distracting lines and Galen Rowell has massive depth of field in his epic landscape.
My photos don’t necessarily break the rules, but they do have juxtaposed elements that would normally detract from the pleasure of a photograph. The water on rosemary, while at f/11 has shallow depth of field. In fact, I’m not sure a deeper depth of field would add to this photo. The construction photo, taken at the U of O has lines all over the place; however, each man is in his own “frame.” The power line photo is a little distracting, but I feel that they add to the idea of “man’s inventions replacing nature.”
For me, photographic inspiration is sparked when the camera becomes invisible and uninhibited human interaction is caught. The moments when someone’s “say cheese” smile fades and a sideways smirk, a raised eyebrow, or a thoughtful gaze replace it are when my shutter release finger becomes a tiny magic wand. Watching someone concentrate on work and capturing the essence of the task is also something that inspires me to develop a photographic idea: “Maybe if I rotate the camera…” “What if I can’t see what his hands are doing—or his facial expression…?” “What if I photograph his silhouette; does his body language tell a story?” “Is there a human element in this landscape that is a tiny hidden surprise…?”
A block to inspiration is often the mundane: the laundry pile, a car that needs an oil change, the surmounting pile of dishes, the hands on a clock. The desire to be on the cover of “Better Homes and Gardens” has never been a strong one for me; however, the impulse to be super-tidy/maxi-completed is strong—as my mother saw nothing wrong with getting an 8 year old out of bed to restack the linen closet so things were arranged by color and material.
My muse is the pursuit of simplistic and efficient order. However, I rarely come close to attaining this in any part of my life; which is why I enjoy capturing deep moments with the camera, in a clean and clutter-free frame. Looking at that photo gives me a sense of something that I cannot achieve because life laundry pile is never ending.