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.
The Printmaker, Reprise

The Printmaker, Reprise

A brief follow up on the previous post.

As a recap, while photographing Scott Lenaway, Artist I figured Delta 100 would be my optimum film so began with it. I burned through 2 rolls pretty confidently, knowing essentially what I’d get because of the previews on the digital camera.

Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

(frame 01) Scott R. Lenaway, Artist – Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Moving to ISO400 Delta, I figured these images might be better, relying less on flash and more on ambient light.

After those 4 rolls were shot there were more photos to make, so I reluctantly reached into the bag and pulled out a roll of Ilford PanF ISO50 film, honestly not expecting much. My digital camera can’t mater at ISO50 so essentially I left the settings the same as for ISO100 (1/100 @ƒ2.8) film assuming the flash would kick up a notch using TTL. I’d never shot flash with PanF before and had no idea what would happen. But I knew I already had a lot of good frames so wasn’t risking anything.

Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

(frame 06) Scott R. Lenaway, Artist – Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

When it came time to develop I did so in the same order according to my expectations: Delta100 the best, Delta400 second best and PanF, well… whatever I got was icing on the cake. All developed in Ilford DDX chemistry at 1:4 at 68°. I developed the last roll – PanF – yesterday and was shocked.

It was far and away the best of the bunch. I’m still trying to understand why – but it is, and has me re-thinking my approach to an upcoming shoot.

(frame 22)-Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

(frame 22)-Scott R. Lenaway, Artist – Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

After years of searching to acquire one of each single-digit F-series Nikon camera has concluded, I’ve been focusing again on 35mm with the F6. The ‘total package’ the F6 offers makes it uniquely capable of super high-resolution, high-quality images using the right film, right lens, good light and of course the (creative lighting) system behind it. On top of those things its relatively small footprint allow ease of set up on location and make it easy to work with.

The F6 is creatively satisfying because it’s uniquely positioned to make unique film photographs. Now with this discovery of Ilford PanF50 and flash, I’m excited to see how far it can be pushed. Not just for bright light and landscape photography, Ilford PanF Plus ISO50 film is capable of much more.

The Printmaker

The Printmaker

Recently I had the privilege of photographing my friend and artist Scott Lenaway on location. Scott, a talented printmaker here in Fort Collins, wanted portraits in his studio. Photographing artists doing their thing – is really my thing.

frame 05-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018). Creatively, black and white film fit the assignment perfectly.

For those who don’t know – printmaking can be messy business (Scott always has ink on his hands when I see him). Given the nature and method of printmaking I envisioned deep, rich blacks and long tones –  making black and white film the perfect creative direction.

Print Maker at work-Artist Scott Lenaway, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

frame 08-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Because his studio is rather dark, bringing any light needed was required. Though the studio isn’t small – it is a little crowded with breakable objects – that are also messy and expensive if they smash on the floor. This made setting up the big Speedotron Black Lines impossible. Not enough space and too many obstacles to block the light path.

Thankfully, the Nikon designers took it upon themselves to include Creative Lighting System (CLS) circuitry in the F6, making off-camera flash a breeze. For those who don’t know – CLS is one of the most unique and powerful attributes of the F6 – but perhaps the least understood. The F6 is Nikon’s only film camera that includes this circuitry making it capable of creating unique images. This meant CLS and my suite of Nikon SB speed lights were the perfect solution for this assignment.

frame 02-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

The brain behind CLS, the F6 is the only Nikon film camera with the circuitry to communicate with the SU-800.

The brain behind CLS, the F6 is the only Nikon film camera with the circuitry to communicate with the SU-800.

After conferring about goals for the session, the idea was to have Scott go through the process of making a real print and photographing him doing so along the way. There were three main stations used in his print making process, each station requiring a different lighting setup.

Using the digital camera and the SU-800 commander head as a ‘polaroid,’ I worked out light levels for each strobe, then transfered the SU-800, lens and desired settings to the F6 and confidently shot away.

When it came time for the next station we’d stop – move the lights – run a new set of digital proofs, then repeat the process. By the end of the 2+ hours we had 5 rolls and a few digitals to choose from.

frame 17-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Hanging the first two rolls to dry after developing in Ilford DDX.

Hanging the first two rolls to dry after developing in Ilford DDX.

Back in the darkroom I processed each film in Ilford DDX, two rolls at a time, then reviewed each frame on the computer screen as it came up from the scanner. The idea was to put together a contact sheet of selects for him to choose from, showing only the best frames. Acquiring focus was a challenge in the dark studio, as was the fact he was moving around quite a bit – but the F6 did a great job tracking and the percentage of usable shots was high.

The overall look and feel of the photographs is exactly what I had in mind when the decision was made to go with Ilford Delta 100 film (my favorite black and white film).

Ultimately we’ll print a few final images as wet silver prints on fiber paper, completing the analog process from beginning to end.

Having shot mostly film again for the past 8 years, my catalog of digitally-originated frames drops a little each year. But- using the digital camera as a tool to figure out lighting on the fly has immense value.

The Printmaker, Artist Scott Lenaway in his studio, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

frame 26-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Something worth mentioning: the idea that a photograph is created on film doesn’t preclude the necessity of editing. The image below is a good example. We all like to ‘get it right in camera.’ For the majority of shots I focused on the subject’s head, eyes and face. There were a few shots focused on hands and what they were holding – as in the shot below. Because of the very shallow depth of field to reduce the distracting background, there wasn’t much room in the focal plane. I wanted his hands to be the point of the shot, but to stop and relight everything to reduce brightness on his face would have been a waste of time and interrupted the flow of the shoot.

Instead I opted for a good base exposure, knowing I’d re-work values during print. So shooting film in a hybrid workflow is a great blend of bringing the best attributes of both film and digital together to create something unique.

frame 06-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

frame 15-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Shooting digitally does provide a bit of a safety net because you know for certain what you have when you’re done. Admittedly this is comforting. Working without that feedback again takes a little getting used to. I’ll admit a smile crossed my face upon seeing dripping wet rolls of film unwind from the reels, dense and healthy with tone. Never a doubt.

The Print Maker-Artist Scott Lenaway, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

frame 04-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Do something different. Shoot film using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System and challenge yourself to make unique, creative photographs. Having a tool like the F6 that is able to respond to virtually any photographic situation is a true blessing.

When You’re Really Trying…

When You’re Really Trying…

Sunset, Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

OK, so maybe I jumped the gun a little. Maybe I still do have something to say regarding the F6. Allow me to explain.

Over the past several years I’ve enjoyed shooting with a variety of cameras, including all the Nikon single-digits F-series, as well as a few medium format Mamiyas. Anyone who has more than one or two cameras can surely identify with the conundrum of which camera to grab when you’re heading out the door. You can only carry and shoot so much in any given outing, so you need to make some decisions. Whether the decisions are made at home before heading out – or – while standing at the back of the car on site plowing through all your junk (because you wouldn’t or couldn’t make that decision at home). So in a very democratic way I decided to use them all for a while, just to spread the love.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I’ve also been shooting a good bit of black and white over the past several years – for reasons previously laid out here, and enjoying the heck out of it. Process your own film, printing in the darkroom, working with filters, the smell of fixer on your fingers… all wonderful stuff. Because of that – I’ve grown accustomed to, let’s say – alternative metering solutions to what the F6 employs. Sunny 16, early Nikon center-weighted metering heads, iPhone app’s, totally winging it see how close I can guess… anything goes. After all, with film, as long as you’re within a stop or so things are pretty flexible. And until you have comparison data points, it’s sometimes tough to evaluate just how well something else performs.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

So last month I was heading home from Illinois to Colorado the long way, through South Dakota. Before leaving for this trip a few weeks prior I was disciplined enough to make decisions regarding kit. It would be all F6, with a new F3T thrown in for some black and white work. I gathered the remaining rolls of Velvia 50 from the fridge along with a smattering of C-41 and called it good. I’d always wanted to visit Badlands National Park and hoped timing allowed on the return leg. If so I’d be prepared.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

As things worked out, by the time I hit Badlands Junction, South Dakota the day was shaping up nicely for some photography. Light was superb after a bit of recent rain refreshed and cleared the sky. Autumn grasses were bright green and played nicely against the ochres and crimsons of natural Badlands coloring. There was an active sky – plenty of cloud cover mixed with plenty of a beautiful cobalt blue. When the time came to shoot I loaded one of the few remaining rolls of Velvia in the F6. The reason this is important is because at nearly $17 a roll, Velvia is pretty pricey stuff, as is the new Kodak Ektachrome at $13/roll. But more importantly, the opportunity before me wasn’t something that came along every day: a beautiful location I’m visiting for the first time (there’s nothing that can match the thrill of discovering a place for the first time), perfect conditions, plenty of time to explore… rolling the dice when it comes time to make the most out of each shutter release isn’t a good approach. Here’s where the F6 really proves superior over all its (charming, old) predecessors. Specifically, it’s metering, features and reliability. No way I’d trust my (wonderful) old cameras to shoot chrome films in changing light on this rare opportunity.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I almost always use a tripod for work like this. I know some people don’t, but honestly – aside from laziness – can’t understand why one would approach shooting anything they’re really trying to get the most from any other way. Slow film in fading light at f8-f11 means shutter speeds hovering around the 1/2 second mark or slower. A tripod, Mirror-Up and the MC-30 cable release, turning off VR on your lens, even using the DR-5 to aid focusing are standard operating procedure.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I won’t drag this out – hoping you get the idea. All these other cameras are wonderful, really. Each has its own personality and allure and I’m happy to have them. But when the time comes to shoot; to really try to get the most from each frame – the Nikon F6 has no equal. As much as I appreciate my other F’s – the F6 is King of the Hill.

The F6 shooting Devils Tower, Wyoming (2018). S.O.P. when I’m really trying to get the most out of a frame of 35mm film. (Nikon F3T, 35mm f1.4 AI-S + Velvia 100).