South St. Vrain River, Allenspark, Colorado

South St. Vrain River, Allenspark, Colorado

Why do we need to say something – anything – about our images? A few weeks ago I was in Chicago looking at a display of student work at Moody Bible Institute. There were two different exhibitions: one with very nice photographs, printed on canvas and beautifully displayed. The other area featured a series of page layouts, combining words and text, printed, laminated to foam core and nicely presented, complete with registration marks from the printed page.

I found myself drawn to these images more – even without reading the text.

frame 16- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 50 sec. @f16

There’s something about the combination of images and text that resonates with my aesthetic – though it’s difficult to explain what, precisely. Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me desiring some presentation of context. While the photographer in me longs to have images stand on their own, open to interpretation by whomever, to whatever end.

frame 17- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 50 sec. @f16

I’ve found it extremely liberating, returning to wet printing in the darkroom; being freed in a sense.

frame 35- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

Letting go of the should’s; the trap and rigidity of expectation and simply experimenting, free to fail, free to succeed. Free to create.

frame 33- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

Photography is an interesting art form. It relies on science to work. Light, measurement, interpreting facts and figures to produce an aesthetic. But it’s so easy to disappear down the rabbit hole of numbers and figures and that same science, becoming trapped in propriety to the extent one loses sight of the aesthetic leading them to stop and appreciate the scene in the first place. We get so wrapped up in numbers we can lose sight of the art.

frame 31- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

To be truly free to create again is to have learned the rules, thanked them, put them aside, and begin asking what if.

frame 34- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

I’ve been doing a lot of reading again. Edward Weston’s Day Book no.1, Mexico. In it he’s having a discussion with another photographer about what the camera “should” be used for:

E.W. “Photography has certain inherent qualities which are only possible with photography – one being the delineation of detail – so why not take advantage of this attribute? Why limit yourself to what your eyes see when you have such an opportunity to extend your vision?”

Johan: “If in a certain mood, why should I not interpret that state through my picture and not merely photograph what’s before me?”

E.W.: “it would prevent you from telling the truth about the life towards which your lens is pointing – if you wish to interpret why not use a medium better suited to interpretation or subjective expression – or let someone else do it. Photography is an objective means to an end – and as such is unequaled – it comes finally to the question: for what purpose should (my emphasis) the camera be used?”

frame 22 – Middle Saint Vrain Creek, Allenspark, Colorado (2019). 3 sec. @f32, 180mm AIS, no filtration

I do see his point, regarding the camera’s unique ability to precisely record detail. And facts. But what a pompous ass; suggesting a camera should only be used for one thing. It’s absurd. From this moment forward I’m removing the words “should” and “shouldn’t” from my active vocabulary.

I do realize I’m questioning Edward Weston. And I do realize the audacity of such an act.

F6 with Voigtlander 58mm f1.4 Nokton Lens

F6 with Voigtlander 58mm f1.4 Nokton Lens

This next post is a guest post from Michael Cox of Vancouver, B.C. Michael was gracious enough to supply the following information about the Voigtlander 58mm f1.4 Nokton Lens, with a few sample images. Take it away Michael…

Michael Cox:

Image © Copyright 2019 by Michael Cox. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

After owning a Nikon F3 (which I loved for its design and size) I had realized that if I was going to continue with using a film SLR, given that I wear bifocals, I’d need an autofocus camera, so I found a near-new F6 at B&H Photo a couple of years ago. But I’d also sold many of my Nikkor lenses. After using the F6 with an old  105 Ais, and seeing how great the viewfinder was, how easy it was to manually focus with the F6, I wanted to try one of the Voigtlander Nokton lenses. I was familiar with Voigtlander from years ago, and was confident I would like their Nikon F mount Nokton 58mm f/1.4 SLII. The version I got was the earlier one with a rubber cover on the focus ring, whereas the newer, second version has a ribbed metal ring. The great advantage to either of these lenses is they have a chip that will send aperture information to the camera, and allow auto exposure with the aperture set to f/16.

Image © Copyright 2019 by Michael Cox. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

It’s important to set the F6 up for the lens:  Menu:Non-CPU Lens. Press the INFO button to set the correct focal length and maximum aperture.

The camera could now be used in Aperture Priority using the front dial, rather than having to adjust the aperture ring; also it can be operated in Shutter and Program priority modes.

Image © Copyright 2019 by Michael Cox. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The focus ring is smooth and well-damped, with just enough resistance. It’s difficult to describe the look: slightly creamy, I would put it: not soft, but with a filmic feel. It focuses as close as 1.5 ft (about 1/2 a meter). The results met my expectations. I’ve only shot three rolls since buying the lens and look forward to trying it out on portraits.

Image © Copyright 2019 by Michael Cox. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Given that the viewfinder doesn’t have split image or microprism focusing aids, I had thought that would be an issue, but the ground glass is so bright one can focus using any part of the screen.

Image © Copyright 2019 by Michael Cox. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Stephen Gandy’s CameraQuest site has details on the lens and the other Voigtlander Nikon F-mount lenses, some of which are unfortunately sold out (but available on eBay, or your favorite major photo store). https://cameraquest.com/Voigt_SL2.htm

These images were all shot with my F6 using a Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Nokton, Nikon mount, on Kodak Pro 100. The processing was done by the Canadian Film Lab, in the small town of Hope, B.C., where they also scanned the negs using a Fuji SP-3000 at 4547 x 3047 pixels (their medium res scan).
Michael Cox
Vancouver, BC
Michael, thanks very much for your article and images. Anyone wishing to contribute to the F6 Project is welcome, just please let me know. I’m  happy to feature new thoughts and ideas as they’re presented.
The Shop

The Shop

How honest do I want to be? How much of myself am I willing to reveal? I’m not a minimalist. At least not in the photographic sense of the word. While I occasionally admire the photo of a mostly empty hillside with subtle tones and a single, isolated tree positioned in the perfect rule of thirds spot – that’s not me. I’m more drawn photographically to a little bit of chaos. Attempting to identify structure within that chaos seems to be a challenge I’m constantly undertaking, and it’s besting me.

frame 08 – Grinders, the shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 5″ sec. @ ƒ11

The first time I saw The Shop I paused, not quite sure how to visually digest what was before me. As chaotic as it first appeared – there was part of me that smiled – wanting to dive in and swim around; a new challenge. I loved it. The Shop satisfied something deep inside; woke it up, gave it a cup of coffee and said go for it.

frame 31 – Maps, The Shop, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/1.3 sec. @ ƒ11

Like other series, The Shop has been in progress for a while. It began as a vague idea; I knew there was something visually interesting about it, but wasn’t quite sure where it would take me. So like any curious photographer following their nose, a year or so after I started… well… here I am.

frame 27-The Shop Series, a Master Mechanics ultimate Man Cave. Ilford PanF+, 1.6″sec. @ ƒ11

The Shop was born by my wife’s late grandfather who was a Master Mechanic during his career. It began as a collection of tools, equipment and hodgepodge of spare parts accumulated over the years at his mountain fishing cabin. After retirement he and his wife moved to the cabin full time, turning it into a year-round mountain home.

frame 24- The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 6″sec. @ ƒ16

frame 03 – Copper and Brass Connectors Ilford PanF+, 3″sec. @ ƒ11

The shop grew. A pot belly stove was added for long hours spent “putzing” during winter months. Woodsmoke was added to the cacophony of old, oily smells as the shop evolved into a complete Master Mechanic’s man cave, the stuff of which legends are made of.

frame 12- SHARP - The Shop, Colorado

frame 12- SHARP – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/5 sec. @ ƒ11

After he passed away, The Shop was relocated to another out building to allow expansion. Piece by piece it was carried across the property and reassembled in its new location where it would live out its days; a museum of sorts, but the epitome of function, containing every tool and part to maintain the property.

frame 31- The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+ 3″sec. @ ƒ16

It’s cold, especially when you first enter, with a cement floor running the length. It smells like – everything old. There’s a dead mouse in the white, 5-gallon bucket near the door. Post cards of bikini-clad women in 70’s hairstyles are tactfully pinned up out of eye line of visitors. Hand written notes with phone numbers, long expired dates and vendors names frozen in time are tacked to the wall.

Old coffee cans with their contents written on tape line the shelves in the shop. Ilford Delta 100 1/1.6 sec @ ƒ11

Coffee cans from years gone by heavily packed, their contents hand-written in marker on tape, crowd shelves above to the right. Beams and timbers strapped together are laid the length of the floor with oily chain saws hanging off keeper straps from hooks above. Old filing cabinet drawers are repurposed to hold whatever will fit.

frame 34 – Skulls, The Shop, Lyons, Colorado (2019) Ilford Delta 100 1/1.6 sec @ ƒ11

Skulls of mostly cattle lie about. Shovels, pick axes, rakes, a post hole digger, weed wacker, sledge hammer, hoes, rakes and a crow bar lean against bare stud and peg board walls with tool after tool hooked into place. Old jackets and hip waders stand ready by the door.

frame 04 - Fly swatters, dust pans, flashlights, rulers, oil cans, tapes of different flavors... there's something tucked into every square inch of the shop.

frame 04 – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/1.3 sec. @ ƒ16

An old, sturdy work bench runs nearly the whole length of the shop with ancient grinders and vices bolted to the surface. Steel shelves stored with box upon labeled box of spare parts for the cabin’s day to day operation ready to spring into service when needed – whether today or 50 years from now. It’ll still be there, still be usable.

frame 37-The Shop Series; Hammer and Ax handles in duct tape.

frame 37-The Shop Series; Hammer and Ax handles in duct tape. Ilford PanF+, 4″ sec. @ ƒ16

Especially with photography, it’s important to feel something when you see a photograph. Recently on instagram I had someone pay me the highest compliment I could imagine. “There is a touch of sadness in your BNW photos I can not put into words.” That a photograph evokes any feeling at all is a win. Not being able to put it into words is exactly why a photograph needs to be made.

frame 26- Remington Trap Loads, The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 3″ sec. @ ƒ16

Much of my time at the cabin is spent in the shop for practical reasons, trying to understand and digest the mind of a Master Mechanic – of which I am certainly not. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person but am told we’d have been fast friends. It’s a fascinating place to me because of its beautiful chaos. I suppose in a way these photographs are me searching for a way to feel connected to the man behind the shop. How I’d have loved to shake his hand.


Technical Notes for the Photographer

Given the nature of ‘The Shop,’ it was a given the photographs had to be etched in black and white film. The fine grain and overall tones of Ilford PanF and Delta 100 were perfect for this project. I wanted lots of detail and good contrast. Ilford DDX developer was used to develop each roll with care in my home dark room.

frame 01 - The Shop, Colorado

frame 01 – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 2.5″ sec. @ ƒ16

In prior attempts I tried color film and found it didn’t hold up as well. Trying a blend of flash and natural environment lighting (incandescent bulbs, fluorescent overhead lighting, etc.) the color was too  inconsistent. Even using different films. Though the objects shared the same space – in the photographs they didn’t appear to belong together. Removing color from the equation eliminated the disconnect.

Another element tying the series together is the F6, which was used for every shot. While nothing unique about the F6 allowed these photographs to be made (they could have been made with any camera mounted to a tripod with a competent meter, the ability to attach a cable release and Mirror Up capability) there’s something pure about the series because they were all made with the same camera.

Nice Leather Scrapes – The Shop, Colorado Ilford PanF+2.5″ sec. @ ƒ11

There are certain things about using the F6 for this series that made it the logical choice. When I’m ‘really trying’ to get the most out of 35mm film the F6 is the best choice. Mirror-Up is something I talk about a lot. If you’re not using it, you’re not getting the sharpest, highest resolution image. The F6 has easy M-Up shooting, accessible via the top Film Advance Mode Selector. The second thing is Custom Setting B:5-Extended Shutter Speeds. Using the camera’s default setting (off) the shutter speed in Manual exposure mode can be selected as slow as 30 seconds. Turning Extended Shutter Speeds ‘On’ allows exposures to be extended down to 30 minutes. This is handy when working with slow ISO films and small apertures. Another handy item is the Nikon MC-30, the cable release connecting to the F6’s front 10-pin port.

And lastly, I have my F6 fitted with a Kirk L-bracket allowing easy tripod mounting in either horizontal or vertical orientation. The older F’s don’t have them and to be perfectly honest, I don’t relish the idea of scratching up the bottoms of these beautiful, old cameras by screwing and unscrewing a Arca-Swiss plate to mount it on a tripod. The Arca-Swiss L-bracket allows easy on-off tripod. Nothing to fiddle with, nothing to forget at home – simple.

Lenses varied depending on the shot. I favored my older AI-S lenses when appropriate. Tight quarters called for wide-normals, with some 85mm thrown in for the head-on, distortionless shots where straight lines and absolutely no barrel distortion was desired. Maneuvering the camera into position was difficult at times. My tripod base is fairly large and requires room to spread out for solid stance on the cluttered floor. A center column and ball head provided complete composition maneuverability once in position.

A wet print portfolio will be available sometime in 2019. Thanks for reading and keep running film through your camera – no matter what make or model it is.

Photographing Chicago at night with New Kodak Ektachrome100

Photographing Chicago at night with New Kodak Ektachrome100

This past week, after much anticipation, I received back my first rolls of the new Kodak Ektachrome 100, exposed in Chicago over the Christmas holiday (thanks to Denver Digital Imaging Center). After all the hype and fanfare surrounding Kodak releasing a new chrome film this far into the alleged afterlife of film I was excited to see the results. Spoiler alert: the wait was worth it. You’re going to love the new Ektachrome 100, as I did when I saw the first frames come on screen.

Jewelers Building, Chicago, Illinois (2018)

Jewelers Building, Chicago, Illinois (2018). Manual Matrix Metered 25 sec. @f8 = +0.7EV

Color is what I’d consider to be fairly natural, with a definite warm bias – especially when contrasted to my (expired) rolls of the older Ektachrome 100G, which the new Ektachrome was reportedly based on. Grain is super fine – for all practical purposes, if you want to process the photograph so it’s grain free it doesn’t take much. It’s a very sharp, contrasty and punchy film but not like Velvia, or the more vivid, Ektachrome 100VS. The new Ektachrome is just right. Remembering you can always punch contrast up in Photoshop – it’s nice to have a more ‘normal’ base line starting point.

Reciprocity Failure: honestly, I didn’t do a whole lot of math here – I just bracketed. Here’s a link to Kodak Alaris data sheet for Ektachrome 100. If the frame metered at 10 seconds, I bracketed three shots. Typically the longer exposure was better – but it’s not an exact science. Exposure times and +/-EV is listed for each image. You can see the F6’s meter – once again – did an excellent job resolving the scene. Always manual, always mirror-up with cable release.

Upper Wacker and Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois (2018).

Upper Wacker and Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois (2018).Manual Matrix Metered 8 sec. @f8, = +0.8EV

When I bought my F6 I’d already been familiar with the advantages of L-brackets, having them mounted on most of my other contemporary cameras (they’re not available for my older Nikons and consequently I find I don’t use them as much for this type of shooting). At first what I liked was the additional element of protection for the camera – against bumps and shocks, setting it down on a wet surface, etc. So outfitting the F6 with an L-bracket straight away was a natural thing to do. At the time I didn’t think, “now that I have an L-bracket I’ll shoot a lot more verticals.” But that is in fact what has happened.

Shooting verticals with an L-bracket is a snap. You simply mount the camera upright and shoot. Simple. And with a ball head and spirit level, it’s a snap getting the frame perfectly level too. There’s no contorting the stem of the mounting platform into the groove, and wondering if it’s really vertical because that’s as far as it will go.

TRUMP Tower, Chicago, Illinois (2018)

TRUMP Tower, Chicago, Illinois (2018). Manual Matrix Metered 8 sec. @ f8, = +0.3EV

Another thing that just occurred to me… I’ve been trying to figure out instagram (show of hands.. anyone else?) and realized something important – at least in regard to viewing social media on your smart phone. Verticals are good again – better than horizontals. For the same reason people shoot video vertically (which drives me nuts) – when you look at social media on your smart phone there’s a pretty good chance you’re holding your phone upright – instead of on its side. When you look at images on your computer screen you’re most likely looking at them horizontally. But in social media, on your phone – it’s almost always vertical. This makes vertical photographs ‘in’ again.

These images were made with the famed Nikkor 35mm f1.4 AI-S manual focus lens, shot from the Penthouse of the Wyndham Grand Chicago River Hotel. Late one night I headed up the elevator to the Penthouse hoping there wasn’t any kind of event scheduled for the large, wide open room with windows all around and stunning views of the city. With the room found empty, the next challenge was trying to compose shots that didn’t include the few, random interior lights that I couldn’t find switches to turn off. At first I was composing frames that minimized reflected distractions, but it was getting in the way. Putting on my Macgyver hat I scoured the room for a solution and spotted a black table cloth. I found that by standing on a chair behind the camera and holding up this black table cloth the reflections in the windows were eliminated – the glass reflecting only black – which of course worked for the subject matter surrounded by night sky.

Make sure when you use any non-CPU lens with the F6 you set the profile up in camera. There will be a blog post about this in the near future. There was minor barrel distortion/pincushioning with these frames, but (very) minor and easily corrected using Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter and dialing in manual settings in the 2-4 realm. So not much at all.

If you’re looking at possibly shooting some of Kodak Alaris’ new Ektachrome,  you’ll be pleased. It’s a great film and I’m super excited to have fresh film stock now available. Thank you Kodak Alaris. And if you’re going to shoot in a city at night and reflections are a problem – pack a big, black table cloth in your tripod bag next to your cable release. You’ll be glad you did. And don’t worry too much about reciprocity failure unless you’re getting really crazy long exposures (longer than 2 minutes). Just use a good meter and bracket if in doubt. And get an L-bracket for your camera to make shooting verticals easier. Your social media followers will like you for it. If you’re a chrome film shooter wondering who to send your film to, look no further than Denver Digital Imaging Center. They’re friendly, reliable, fast and do great work. And finally, if you’re an F6 shooter, learn Custom Setting B5: Extended Shutter Speeds. It opens up new avenues shooting in dimly lit, long exposure situations.

Thanks for reading

Using the Nikon MV-1 with the Nikon F6

Using the Nikon MV-1 with the Nikon F6

Nikon Data Reader MV-1

It’s pretty simple really: Just hook the 10-pin connector to the camera and hit “START.” The camera does the rest.

This evening I received an e-mail from someone wanting to know how to use the MV-1 with the F6. At about the forth or fifth step, I wondered if a brief video might be more appropriate. So without further delay, here’s a brief how-to with the Nikon MV-1. You’ll see it’s pretty straight forward. Cheers, JBC.

A couple of finer points:

  1. You’ll notice the odd angle (it seems odd to me at least) the MV-1’s cord connects to the camera. My digital camera’s 10-pin port connects ‘normally’ – as in, the cord flowing down the camera instead of up as shown above. Make sure you don’t try to force the cord’s plug in the wrong way. It’ll damage the pins and cause all kinds of problems.
  2. Make sure you do this with the camera OFF. Anything that might cause problems – especially in the electrical components of the camera – can be neutralized by making sure the camera is turned off when you attach something. This includes mounting and un-mounting lenses, by the way.
  3. You may notice I have a roll of film in the camera in the video. It’s on frame 35. This roll’s data will not be extracted from the camera during this session. Just the rolls that are complete.
  4. When I remove the MV-1 from the camera, the only data left in the camera’s memory will be that of the still-loaded roll. You should use the MV-1 when the camera is empty – but not for any technical reasons other than you’ll get all the rolls shot until that point. You won’t hurt anything using the MV-1 mid-roll.
  5. I leave all previous roll’s data on the CF card as a back up. They’re also copied into the computer, but having another copy of them on the CF card just makes sense to me. They’re small files and even the relatively small 128Mb CF card can last several life time’s worth of the tiny shooting data files.