Having just returned from a long weekend to Arches National Park, I’m beginning to work through my film. Shot a good bit of 35mm and 120, both color and monochrome this trip, keeping with my New Year’s ‘goals’: shoot more film, drink more whiskey. Did both, it turns out – but shot more film than whiskey, largely dividing time evenly between 4 cameras: 2 x medium formats and 2 x 35mm. Since retiring my D3s I’ve added the F5 back into heavy rotation and am loving working with it again.
If you want to see one of America’s true treasures, visit Arches National Park in Utah. If you want to see it at a special time of year, and when there are (far) fewer people – try visiting in January. In much of the Park I was alone, and it was wonderful.
The F6 saw heavy use. I continue to be pleased with its performance (after more than 10 years), even in the cold. Of all my cameras it’s still the king of metering and perfect exposure. Having just replaced the batteries with fresh AA’s (went with Duracell’s new “Optimum’s” (“Extra Life. Extra Power” is the slogan). In 20° temps they registered down 1 tick on the top plate indicator so I slipped out the MS-40 and kept it in an inner jacket pocket until ready to shoot. No problems after that.
For 35mm, ran some FP4+, of course Delta 100 as well as some new Ektachrome and expired Provia. Ran mostly E-6 through the F5 this trip, largely relegating the F6 to monochrome. Both use Kirk L-brackets so getting them on and off the tripod is fast and easy. The color medium format work can be seen on Blue Hour Journal soon.
The vast scale of the land is hard enough to communicate through small photographs on the internet. But everyone knows a human figure when they see it.
As is evident – there was no sky the whole trip. Just a huge, grey wall behind every horizon line for 4 straight days. This made shooting wide difficult, and encouraged tunneling in more, cutting the horizon completely out of most images. There were times just enough depth showed through to indicate something in the background, and in that case it stayed. But largely, this was a horizonless shooting experience.
I found this tree fascinating, and the small, frozen berries against the gnarled, twisted trunk communicated delicacy against a tortured harshness unique to Arches. I do think, however, this image will wet print better than it scanned/displayed digitally. There’s a lot of detail/information here and controlling contrast is going to be important. One of the great things about FP4+ is slightly less contrast than Delta, allowing contrast to be built up slowly using multi-grade filters.
Sometimes the fog lifted just enough to make background features barely visible, adding depth to the mysterious scenes.
Next up is the color work. Thanks to Denver Digital Imaging for processing my color films. Couldn’t do it without you guys.
It’s January 1, 2020. Not just the beginning of a new year, but a new decade. Tonight in the local news (well, not exactly news… in Colorado it’s Kyle Clark’s NEXT-we watch him every night and love the program) – the question was asked what things you’d like to leave behind from last year or previous years as you move into this new decade. For me, the answer was deceptively simple.
Our son is a Communications major in college and is about to take his first Photo Journalism class. His used D7000 was becoming a bit worn and after briefly consider bequeathing him one of my prized F2’s (there’s still time for that…) I realized what he really needed (and wanted) was a better digital camera.
My D3s has been a good camera for 10 years. But over the last 4 or 5 has seen less use each year as I double down on my commitment to film and my shooting preferences and style evolves. After a brief discussion with my wife it was clear what to do.
His delight Christmas morning was not feigned and I knew we’d made the right decision. But it wasn’t until watching our news program tonight that it hit me: After slowly increasing my commitment over the past several years to a film-only approach to photography, I’m beginning a new decade newly, wholly committed to approaching every photographic situation with film.
This isn’t relegated to simply one format or one camera, but several. Crazy? Maybe. But I love the purity of it. And idealism certainly isn’t the last word used to describe me by those close to me.
Isn’t it OK to admit that photography is more than recording photons? I mean, if absolute literal interpretation is the name of the game – why bother? Who cares? “Just the Facts, ma’am” doesn’t really cut the mustard. Photography is infusing your slant, your spin – on what you’re seeing and recording; interpreting… whatever – in a way that says something about the scene before you. Not being afraid then to make a statement – to proclaim and announce your point of view through your frame – is brave, and what a photograph is all about.
OK leaving ethereal realm and re-entering practical realm. Yes, it’ll mean some assignments will have to be turned down. One of those is low-light shooting in indoor venues for our church, for example. But there are up and coming youngsters equipped with the newest mirrorless cameras – and a passion to learn who will more than fill any voids.
Last night I had a dream. My son came to me in the dream apologizing and handing the camera back to me, citing audio noise as the main reason. This made me sad. When I told him the dream tonight he laughed, saying he had no intention of using that camera for video work – and no way would he ever part with it.
As 2020 begins and anything is still possible for the year, here’s wishing you all a happy, photo-filled year and decade ahead. Thank you for visiting the F6 Project, and for baring with me as I get its new incarnation off the ground. Hoping for great things in 2020.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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, 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.
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
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, 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.
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 – 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. 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, 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.
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.
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).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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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).