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).

Check Please…

Check Please…

10 years ago when I first put up the F6 Project I was re-invigorated with passion for film photography, the camera, and this new journey I had embarked on: stepping off the digital camera merry-go-round onto solid, analogue ground once again: film, and the film way. Putting up the F6 Project felt like a good way to express and share that excitement by inviting others into it along the way.

I’m not sorry I did. The F6 Project has opened the door to connect with many other like-minded photographers around the world, many of which I’ve enjoyed regular correspondence with since. But after 10 years I’ve had enough and am ready to simplify life.

I haven’t written anything in months and honestly – am out of things to say. And for the record – I’m not stepping away from the F6 Project because I’ve stepped away from the F6. I still believe the F6 is simply the best 35mm film camera ever made. By anyone. Over the past 10 years however, I’ve added back at least one sample of all the single digit F-series cameras… kind of a bucket list thing… and truly enjoy shooting every one of them. I don’t think I could ever explain why – if the F6 is the greatest camera ever made – I still continue to reach for the other 5 F’s. The uncomplicated reason is, it pleases me to do so.

1969 Land Rover, Santa Fe, New Mexico

1967 Land Rover, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nikon F6 + Nikkor 35-70 push/pull zoom, Velvia 50.

But time marches on. Though I still get questions now and again regarding the F6 from the site, the majority of contact these days is from SEO’s who want to put it on page 1 of google. So I can experience even more pressure of having nothing new to talk about. I watch activity in facebook groups of people posting pictures of their cameras and, while I remember that phase of it all, find myself clicking off to other things rather quickly, completely uninterested. I believe (but can’t prove) many of these groups are underwritten by manufacturer’s attempting to promote and create lust for their brands, and ignite a buying frenzy. Then I realize that in effect – I’m one of those people, having devoted an entire web site to it, rationalizing it by having never taken a cent of revenue for it. And don’t even get me started on the bot-infested, purchased followers, algorithmic chaos of Instagram. The marketing juggernaut the internet and social media has become is just not my thing. I don’t want to try harder. I don’t want to compete for page impressions. I just want to be left alone to shoot photographs, on film, with my F’s.

I digress.

As Kodak releases its new film and the camera companies fight to stay alive with this new mirrorless initiative – it’s anybody’s guess what the next 5-10 years holds. It will come and go regardless of me and what I do. I truly hope camera manufacturers find a way to remain relevant. I’ll admit though that it’s an uphill slog, especially if they’re target marketing someone like me who’s perfectly content making photography with tools that were created anywhere from 15 to 50 years ago.

So there it is – the final post to the F6 Project. Thank you to everyone from around the world who has sent encouragement over the last 10 years. It’s impossible to describe the warmth and reward that personal contact brought each time. It has always been for and about you, and I’m grateful for that.

VSOP 67, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nikon F6 + Nikkor 35-70 push/pull zoom, Velvia 50.

VSOP 67, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nikon F6 + Nikkor 35-70 push/pull zoom, Velvia 50.

I pondered which photograph to end with, and decided on this image of an old, 1967 Land Rover as the perfect parting shot. VSOP is short for Very Superior Old Pale, a grade label for specially aged brandy. In many ways it (the vintage Land Rover and its demarcation as VSO – not the brandy) represents aspects of me I choose to preserve, embrace and advance. Turns out I have a thing for Very Superior Old things; things possessing something other than the transitory value of so many of today’s mass commodities. Nothing lasts forever – not even this old Land Rover. But with any luck the Very Superior Old F6 will last a good, long time and make photographs well into its senior years, following the example set by his older siblings.

See ya’ out there.

Clouds, Mountains, Snow and Ilford PanF50 Plus

Clouds, Mountains, Snow and Ilford PanF50 Plus

Lava Cliffs Triptych, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photographed with the venerable Nikkor 180mm ƒ2.8 AI-S prime lens.

Not long ago I decided to spend some focused time shooting Ilford’s PanF 50 Plus. In an effort to minimize variables the decision was made to focus on 35mm using the trusted and favored F6. The F6’s venerable meter virtually eliminates exposure error, and I really wanted to dial in +/-EV, development time, agitation, grain, scanning, wet-printing, etc. The decision was also made to use exclusively Ilford’s DDX developer. What follows are the results. The executive summary: I have ordered lots more Ilford PanF50 Plus film for an upcoming trip to Santa Fe where I’ll look forward to continuing this ‘experiment,’ though I now feel quite comfortable that PanF is all I could hope for in a 35mm film.

frame 22: Laval Cliffs, RMNP, Colorado. 180mm f2.8 Ai-S, PanF50+, DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

I’m not really a numbers guy. I mean – I am – but don’t perseverate over them. I like to use numbers as a starting point; get things figured out, then use that knowledge to extrapolate as I shoot. I’m not one of these people that tweaks and tracks every variable just to reconstruct later. Ilford made recommendations on their film based on good authority. I’m not one to second guess. My interest in numbers is really searching for a baseline – then (rather unscientifically) adjusting exposure based on the scene. If in doubt, bracket (but I hate wasting film). If I think it’s going to be an especially worthwhile shot I’ll bracket – but usually trust in the flexibility of film and the F6’s infallible meter.

Mammatus Cumulus Clouds, Fort Collins, Colorado. June 18, 2018. Ilford PanF50 shot at ISO50, 50mm ƒ1.4D @ƒ5.6, 1/125 sec. Nikkor Y48 Yellow Filter. Development: DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Mammatus Cumulus Clouds, Fort Collins, Colorado. June 18, 2018. Ilford PanF50 shot at ISO50, 50mm ƒ1.4D @ƒ5.6, 1/125 sec. Nikkor Y48 Yellow Filter. Development: DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Something I have been doing a lot lately is working with filters. Yellow, orange and a couple different reds. Being a Nikkor devotee (and making no apologies for it) – I have a nice assortment of vintage 52mm Nikkor filters I use use regularly – especially when shooting my old pre Ai, Ai and Ai-S lenses. More and more I’m prone to favoring these smaller, lighter primes over hauling around the big-barreled, gold-ringed f2.8 zooms with 77mm filter threads I was infatuated with with in my ‘earlier years.’ I also have a nice set of 58mm B+W F-Pro’s for the Mamiya 645 rig I’ll use with a step-up ring if needed. Usually one of the 52mm Nikkor filters does the trick though.

Where I was experiencing some interesting results was using the deep red B+W F-Pro filter. It’s super dark – darker than the Nikkor R60 Red. Here’s what Schneider says about it on their site: “Compared to the lighter 090 red filter, this one even darkens the reds near the yellow tones in the spectrum, as its transparency only begins in the orange-red region. It produces dramatic effects and extreme tonal separation for graphic effects. That accounts for the large filter factor of appr. 8.” It’s so dark, focusing is sometimes made difficult. And when you shoot a ISO50 film you’re really needing a tripod to get an aperture that’ll provide adequate Depth Of Field. But the real ‘problem’ (if you want to call it that) is, it darkens any greenish vegetation to the near black range. This isn’t something I’m typically after. Enter the Nikkor Y48 Yellow. Especially when working off the hand, I find it just right to deepen tones in the sky and increase separation, but leave other elements largely as is. A bump to deepen midtones, minimal light loss and a relatively unchanged TTL experience.

Lava Cliffs, no.5, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Lava Cliffs, no.5, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 180mm f2.8Ai-S, Ilford Pan F50, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Not long ago I acquired the lovely, ancient 180mm f2,8 AI-s. I have long been a fan of shooting landscapes with telephoto lenses – but upon close inspection, anything shot with the 70-200VR has been somewhat disappointing. Not to mention its size and weight being a deterrent. The 180 f2.8 solves all those issues and then some. Mounted on the F6, this ancient lens benefits from the F6’s ability to dial in Non-CPU Lenses. Doing so while working with the lens allows the correct shooting information to be recorded in the shooting data for that frame. The 180 has no tripod socket because it doesn’t need one. The L-bracket on the camera is more than sufficient to hold its relatively light weight. The one negative is I’m not about to invest in a set of 72mm filters for it and have to carry them around too. So when I’m shooting the 180 I’m going so with the rectangular front-slide-in filters.

Unnamed trail above treeline, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Unnamed trail above treeline, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

Snow, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Snow, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

Alpine Ridge Trail, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Alpine Ridge Trail, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

and a few PanF50 Plus shots from the past to show a little more diversity:

San Luis, Colorado

San Luis, Colorado. Nikon F2, Nikkor 50mm 1.2 Ai-S. DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

Bisti Wings, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. Ilford Pan F50, 70-200VRI @200mm. DDX by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

Bisti Wings, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. Ilford Pan F50, 28-70 f2.8ED @70mm, f7.1@1/60 sec. (-0.2EV) DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah. 28-70 f2.8ED @42mm, 1/1.6 sec @ f16 (+1.7EV). DDX by the book: 1:4, 68° for 8 minutes.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah. 28-70 f2.8ED @42mm, 1/1.6 sec @ f16 (+1.7EV). DDX by the book: 1:4, 68° for 8 minutes. Something else I routinely love about the F6 is the ability to go back and review shooting data. In the above shot, for example, I was amazed to realize the frame was made at +1.7EV.

The amount of detail and resolution PanF50 holds is remarkable. Without moving to my medium format system, PanF50 provides all I need when exposed, processed and scanned properly. Like other ‘high performance’ films, it’s not as flexible as say a TriX. But getting to know and understand it is well worth the time. I’ve ordered a bunch more for an upcoming trip to New Mexico in July.