Using B&W To Grab Your Viewers By The Throat…


Yes, deep moody B&W can capture and hold your attention!

Pawleys Island Marsh, North Causeway

I am always curious as to what people like and dislike about my images and make a point of posting them online to see what people think and how they respond.  Sometimes the result of this practice really surprises me.  The funny thing is that most of my personal favorites in B&W are not well received by the public!  Yet those that I consider not as good get better reviews…

It does not matter what camera I choose to create with, Medium Format FIlm (Mamiya 645 AFDii) or digital (Fuji GFX 50r medium format), the output results are difficult to tell apart. I love working in film, its process from end to end defines art to me.  But I also love working in medium format digital as well.  It is a much shortened and simpler  process and only takes a fraction of the time when compared to film.  I think most of you will be hard pressed to pick the film/digital images that I am going to place in this post! So the source of the images make little difference to me.

Approaching Storm at Pawleys Island

Have you ever considered what it is about B&W photography that you are attracted to?  What about it grabs you?   For me, it is simple, the removal of color strips the scene to it soul allowing you to really become one with it.  It removes the confusion and gives a pure view of the scene!

Consider the image of the approaching storm above.  The clarity of the image draws me into the scene, the sharpness captures my interest and holds it.   The dark moody tones make me feel like I am still standing right there!

Pawleys Island Beach Crossover in the fog.

I am not saying color work is bad, rather that I personally enjoy working in monochrome and enjoying the finished images processed in B&W much more that color work.   I suppose that is why working in film is so addicting to me, everything about the process from working behind the camera, film processing, scanning and printing I find very enjoyable.  But with the introduction of the Fuji GFX 50R camera system I am equally thrilled!  You can shoot in both color and B&W on the fuji system. The real difference is that you can set it up with film emulation profiles in camera and generate and output true B&W RAW images!  I find that I like using the Acros/red profile in camera because it matches my film work with actual Acros film!   This gives me another entire workflow that matches my B&W film work 1:1! The fog image above in a good example of the ethereal nature that you can achieve when working in B&W.

Charlee Marie

The image above if Charlee Marie highlights this relationship between working with medium format Acros film and the medium format Fuji GFX 50r camera system.   The amazing tonality of the boat and sky capture my attention and will not let it go.  The subtle tonality of the wheel house is flawless.  Overall this is one of my favorite images produced by the 50R, capturing the heart and soul of the shrimp boat in a non cluttered fashion usually associated with them on the easy to use medium format digital 50R!  This particular image is one of my favorites from the 50R that has not been well received by the public, yet I cannot let it go…

Port Royal Shrimpers

The Port Royal Shrimpers is an example of everything coming together for a powerful image; Good Light, Clouds, Boats and reflective water plus being there!  Of all the images captured with the 50R this one has the highest number of likes and comments online.  Yes it is a powerful moody image but I am not sure if I personally like it more than the image above!

Daddys Girls, medium format Acros film

OK, on last image of Daddys Girls was taken last week on Acros Film on my 645 AFDII  using a deep red contrast filter so the sky is a little darker.  To me this is a powerful image and different from the digital work above it due to the deep red filter.  Yet all other aspects of the image match equally to the work generated on the 50R system.   

To me, this illustrates how well the film and digital systems can work together.  There are times when working in film is just not possible or practical during travel where the 50R would work much better and easier.

I am happy that each camera system can complement each other so closely!  It will make my life much easier and allow me to concentrate on creating art rather than on how I capture it!

 

As always please let me know what you think, I value your input!

 

 

 

 

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The ART of creating MOOD


What Makes Ethereal Moody Images?

Kathy Dean, medium format film

This post is going to be a bit different from my otherwise technical (Geeky) posts of the past.  I am going to share my philosophy of creating MOOD in my art.

I spend a LOT of time studying the fine art photography of the past masters (Ansel and others) and current photographers.  I visit galleries, web sites like 500px scouring  for examples of the creative process that generates images that speak to me.   This takes up a lot of my time but I feel that it is a worthwhile investment to further my understanding of what makes great art that reaches out and grabs my attention!  I do NOT do this in order to copy others, (that is not my way) rather it is to understand what about an image makes it reach out and tweek my artistic desire!  You would think that after 55 years of personal photography that this would not be necessary, but if you think about it you will realize that life is learning and we never stop that process.  Sometimes it is re-learning forgotten lessons, other times it is about learning new lessons.  We all change and our tastes also change as we age, so to me this is a natural progression in our path in artistic endeavor.

I personally tend to work mostly in B&W Film, but do not limit myself to it.  I create as well in color both digitally and on film too, but my real passion is B&W. Here we are going to discuss only B&W and all of my examples are created on various 6×4.5 medium format camera systems because working with flim and the process of film motivates and enhances my creative process.  I am going to leave out the technical details of the images because I want you to really study the images without considering the technical aspects of the creative process.

Let us consider the image above of Kathy Dean, a shrimp boat in Port Royal, SC.    What about this image gives you pause, making you want to really study it?   Sit back and consider the mood of the image and what you are drawn to as you study it.  For me, it is the dark moody sky and reflections contrasted against the bright whites of the boats.  My eyes continuously circle around these details and re-settle on the boats again and again.  The dark sky and water create a moody ethereal frame that traps our attention on the boats themselves yet provides a scene free of the distractions of color

If we were standing there today with camera and tripod wouldn’t we be thinking that we could have a much better image with fluffy clouds?  Let me suggest that if indeed there were clouds the day I created this image that they too would have been a distraction from the mood of the image. 

I will honestly tell you that as I stood before this scene that it was my primary thought that this could be an amazing moody image provided that I set it up as a longer exposure to smooth the water and darken the sky and reflections.   In other words, I studied the scene, pondering what it was that drew me to it and how to use the camera (my tool) to create my vision! 

These are my secrets to successful fine art photography:

Stop, Look and Think about the scene:

  • Why are you attracted to it?
  • How do you compose for a simple yet powerful image free of distractions?
  • How to super charge the image with mood?
  • How to use the camera to create this vision?

Lindale Denim Mill, a study of extreme dynamic range in a single image…

Let’s take a look at another image, this one digital (yet another tool), and the camera on hand when visiting the inside of the Lindale denim mill in Georgia.  This is one of those  location that  will NEVER fail to deliver scenes full of wabi/sabi goodness full of amazing mood providing you approach it with the right motivation and mental tools!

Lindale Denim Dye Tank

I spent 7 hours here over the course of 2 days.  It was a power parade of mood that swamped my senses and at every single turn. I was continually stunned at what lay before me as I moved through the factory!  What more motivation could a fine art photography artist desire?  I slowed down, WAY DOWN and studied each and every hint of mood before me. 

For this scene, (Blue dye tank) I studied the dark moody ceiling and walls behind the pillars, the deep tank with its grungy details, but I particularly paid attention to the play of light coming through the windows and highlighting the entire scene!   I realized that in order to capture this scene with mood that I would need to control the sunlight and keep the dark areas from loosing detail.   I setup the camera to control both and average the entire composition.   This happened quite fast (remember 55 years of experience) and it only took ONE SINGLE EXPOSURE

To me, this scene has amazing flow that draws me in thru the lighted windows, walking around the exterior of the room and moving down the ladder.  My attention never leaves the room.  It has a wonderful dark mood and speaks to me of days long gone.   

What more can a photographer ask for in such a creation?

My path in creating this image:

  • I walked around the entire room several times, studying the elements that the scene contained.
  • I constantly asked myself;  “Mark, why do you like this?”  and “What do you actually like?”  I answered; “The dark mood broken into segments by the light coming thru the window and the LADDER!”
  • Can the camera I had capture the overall mood and range before me?  “YES!”
  • What is the best vantage? “Closer to the ladder!”
  • How best can I control the contrast and range of this image? “Multiple spot meter readings to shift the scenes entire dynamic range into that of the camera!”

After this it was just a simple matter of setting the the composition, exposure and capturing the image!

 

Ok one last example…  Daddy’s Girls…

 

Daddy’s Girls, medium format film

This is one of those scenes that I visit time and time again.  It is only a few hours from home down in Bluffton, SC (a location where my oldest son lives).  There is only one single boat at this commercial dock and processing plant.  There is a boat launch and pier close to the left, but  for for this shot I wanted a more head on view.  I got my son to take me out on his boat so that I could get this angle on a terribly stormy day. Dark and Stormy it was.  Heavy rain and wind, but these were the components that were in my vision so I suffered through it to get this image.  I took several shots of the scene (waves, no tripod and a moving boat) so I invested an entire roll of 16 images knowing that a lot of them would be blurry and out of focus.   Good thing too, I only got this one single sharp image but it was so worth the effort!

Do you see what I am getting at?  I KNEW what I wanted with this image, I knew what tool (camera) I wanted to use so I returned dozens of times here, re-evaluating again and again till I got what my vision demanded!   I have been here a hundred times over the past 4 years and was NEVER satisfied with the scene!

What my vision demanded:

  • Moody, Stormy Sky.
  • Bright light on the boat.
  • Cloud detail.
  • No other boats to clutter the scene at the launch.
  • Medium Format Film only.
  • No workmen on the boat.

So it took years of returning again and again until I got the scene that matched my vision!  But to me it was well worth it!  Will I stop returning?  Heavens no, you NEVER know what nature will provide you with so keep returning!

As always, I hope that you enjoyed this post!   Please consider leaving feedback and comments!

 

 

 

 

Another Film Dynamic Range Adjustment Post!


A Quick Dynamic Range Followup and Example

Hurricane Florence is coming… Spent all day today starting to get ready. But yesterday I stopped by the causeway bridge to Litchfield beach and shot 1 roll of FP4+ film on my Fuji GA645zi changing between the red R24 and R25 filter. I was looking to the North from the bridge. It is a very beautiful spot and scene.
This is one of my go to spots when I am looking for inspiration and it did not fail to deliver for me. I was heading home but decided to stop at the studio and put the film into the processor, wait the 20 min then hang it in the dryer overnight.
 

But…

When standing there looking at the clouds I realized that the whites were going to be blown so I subtracted 30 seconds from the development time to compress them down towards Zone 8 so that I could capture the entire dynamic range, then in scanning moved them back up a bit to place them closer to my memory of them and bring the blacks up a bit! I love the effect the deep red filter gives to the blue sky.

How did I do this you ask?  I am glad you asked!

With a hand held spot meter I measure the brightest white I desire texture in, then measured the darkest black for texture.  Pushed the average button on the meter and got the zone 5 reading along with a chart showing max and min.  This tells me that the whites will be blown out on the negative.  SO I adjusted my exposure to give texture (Zone 3) in the blacks I wanted and let the whites fall where they will.   In the processing knowing how far over exposed the whites are I can now adjust the developing time (-1N in this case) to compress the whites down to zone 8 (-30 seconds).  Easy!
In the scanning software (VueScan) you have the opportunity in the extended menus to again shift the black and white points up or down.  I simply adjusted both to expand the dynamic range back out to the range of the Gicle’e (RIP) printing system I use in my studio yet keep the whites from being blown out!
  1. Measure the range of the scene and determine if the film can capture it all
  2. Expose to move the blacks with texture to zone 3.
  3. Pick a -N developing time according to where the whites fell in the negative (1 stop for this one)
  4. Scan to keep the textured blacks at zone 3 and move the compressed whites back up where they belong in VueScan)

 

The Results:

 

The Causeway going to Litchfield Beach, SC

It was a pleasant and very satisfying endeavor and made me very happy today when I scanned this image on my way home from preparations.
 
Data: GW645zi – 55mm – Roll 95 – Fr 8 – Red 25 +3 Filter – f8 – 1_60 – FP4+ – Xtol Stock -30s – Wet Scan – T CI 50 – Litchfield Marsh- 2018-09-09
I know, this was a really short post, but I was really pleased with the image results and the entire process was one of those “By the seat of the pants” type of evolution.  I wanted to share again, now simple the process is for adjusting the range on film in development and scanning.  There will be yet another one of these in the future but it will be VERY detailed and perhaps even with a video!

As always please let me know what you think!

Willy and the Pelican


A Lesson On Life!

 

WIlly and the Pelican.. Southport, NC

 
I discovered Willy (his first name is Wet) at Fishy Fishy on the marsh front in Southport while Jamie Konarski Davidson and I were there last weekend and kindly asked the pelican flying overhead to land on Willy. He said that Willy was to small and his landing there would make Willy rock and ruin my shot so he landed on the larger boat then struck a pose for me. A really considerate bird that Pelican was! The scene was busy yet pleasing to me so I sat and talked to the Pelican (they are so chatty) for a bit while I shot the roll of film!
 
When I was done and started to leave the pelican squawked in his deep male pelican dialect “ what about compensation for pulling this scene together for you?” So i asked the fish monger behind me for a pelican sized payment and gave it to my birdie friend who promptly grabbed it and flew away without a word! I lowered my head in disappointment knowing that I should not have been hurt as all of the creatures live and die in the entitlement mentality! Oh well…

So… Here is Willy and the Pelican!

Willy and the Pelican

This was done with my Mamiya 645AFDii and a 45mm lens using FP4+ film processed in Xtol stock in my Filmomat processor,  then wet mount scanned. Full data is below:
 
BTW, WIlly says he is looking forward to seeing all of you who are coming to the workshop there at the end of September!
 
645 AFD2 – 45mm – Roll 93 Fr 7 – 1_60 f11 – Orange Filter – Willy and the Pelican- FP4 125 – Xtol Stock – Filmomat – D-CI 55- – Scan Exp Lock – Wet Mount – 2018-08-25

One Perfect Image…


Sometimes we just have to stand there taking it all in!

Hoodoos in Bryce National Park at the Sunset Point Overlook. Olympus XA with Kodak Tmax 100 film. This is MY defining image for my entire trip!

Hoodoos in Bryce National Park at the Sunset Point Overlook. Olympus XA with Kodak Tmax 100 film. This is MY defining image for my entire trip!

Ahh, have you ever had one of those defining moments in life where you KNOW that you are witnessing something truly special that touches your soul?   Well that is exactly what this was for me.  We had been on the road for almost 11 days on a trip from Rapid City thru Wyoming and Utah.  Our last stop of the trip was supposed to be in  Zion National Park but we had to cancel due to terrible rain and flooding in the park.  We extended our time in Arches which was really nice but it was not until I stood here in Bryce National Park at the Sunset point looking down into the canyon that I realized that I had made a mistake… I should have added onto the time there.   We only had ONE day to explore Bryce and it was very nice there with many great vistas and rock formations, but this image at the Sunset Point was the defining moment for the entire trip for me.  

Hood Valley, Bryce Canyon, Sunset overview.

Hood Valley, Bryce Canyon, Sunset overview, Sony A7rii

Understand, that I am NOT talking about either of the  photographs captured and shown above, but rather the moment for me personally standing there taking it all in, becoming one with the scene, no camera, no thoughts of photography only the experience and impact of witnessing the greatness of the scene.   I stood there for a good half hour drinking it all in and I will remember the emotional impact upon me for the rest of my life.   Yes… it was that powerful.  

There is some serious food for thought in this last statement.  In these days of rapid fire digital photography don’t you think that we can quickly loose sight of what it is that we are trying to create in our art?  Shooting in film slows you down which aids in the creative process.  This is not to say that we cannot do this with our digital systems because we can and I do, but rather most of us who practice this art tend to “hurry, capture and move on to the next thing!”   

Olympus XA 135mm

Olympus XA 135mm

It was almost as if it was an afterthought that I actually took my Sony A7rii with me up the trail to the overlook and took a few images which were actually quite nice in color, but after the sensory overload of the scene I could only think of one thing, B&W and FILM.  Yes, I could convert the color image above to B&W in post processing and do quite a good job of it but NOTHING can compare to what I can create with film!  So, it was a bit of a walk back down to the car where my wife and 7 year old grandson were resting because of the long drive to get here, but down I went with only one task, to trade the digital for a TINY B&W film camera, the Olympus XA.  The XA is the worlds smallest 35mm rangefinder camera. It has an amazingly sharp lens with easy focus, but the key is the fact that it is pants pocket (not those bulky cargo pockets but regular ones), it is light and handy.

I took so much camera equipment on this trip that the only space I had for a film system required that it be tiny.   Against all of my experience I threw in this tiny camera along with just 5 rolls of Kodak Tmax 100 film and off we flew.  I am so glad that I did now but having said this it is only fair to share that this was a colossal mistake.  I should have made room for a medium format (120 6×7) camera and taken out a lens or two for the Sony.   I have learned my lesson and will never repeat this mistake.  Don’t get me wrong, the XA captured an amazingly detailed and  sharp image. I love how it turned out.  The Kodak Tmax 100 film along with the Perceptol developer generated a image (yes small) with tiny grain and great sharpness.  Am I happy with the result?  You bet!  Would I have been happier with a larger 120 negative, OMG YES!!  Can I have a do over please?  Yes, I know, not to much of there ever being a chance for that.

So lets sum this up a bit shall we?  

  • SLOW DOWN,  take the time to really look at your subject!  If you do this your chances of creating a world class image will greatly improve.
  • Look closely at what is in front of you, take the time to feel its emotional impact upon you and only then bring out the camera and with your skill and insight to the scene make the camera (nothing more than a tool) capture what you saw!
  • Think in both color and B&W.  Remember though that B&W removes the clutter and confusion of normal color work.  In my opinion, B&W allows you to capture the soul of the scene! So yes, take color but also take B&W, you might be surprised at how well you can do.
  • If you are working in digital only, during post processing work color first completely, save the image THEN process for B&W generating all of the mood that you possibly can!

Ok, this post is done.  Get out there, shoot and create, but slow down and think about what and WHY you are doing it!