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.
There are different schools of thought on whether one should use filters for their color film photography or not; each having its own merits. For example, why get a super high-quality lens and put a ‘cheap’ filter on it, effectively reducing the quality of glass the image has to travel through? Great question (you should never do this, btw). What about if you put a ‘good’ filter on your lens? What is a ‘good’ filter? Does it matter? Can you stack different filters? Most have thread mounts on the front and back… does image quality suffer when you do this? What about vignetting? If you stack filters then mount the ‘correct’ hood, you’ve pushed that hood out a few more millimeters. Will you get dark corners in your photos?
Another question or concern is, if you don’t use a filter on your super expensive lens does the front element get buggered up over time? Do you ever wipe your lens off with your t-shirt before taking a picture? (I’ve done it ;-).
What about multi-coated filters? What about Polarizers? Warming filters? Cooling filters? UV filters? Skylights, etc., etc. Or do you get a clearer picture with just pure lens? What about a hood? Why bother with a hood?
So a few weeks ago I decided to answer the question for me and my own personal preferences once and for all. I took the F6 up to Rocky Mountain National Park with an assortment of filters I regularly use and did a couple controlled experiments. The results surprised me a little.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you’re short on time, here’s the executive summary: yes, using filters matters when you’re shooting film. What filter, and how much it matters is the big question each photographer needs to answer by doing something similar to what I’ve done here. Stacking high-quality filters has virtually no impact on image sharpness, vignetting wasn’t an issue in my situation, and I’ll be doing this a lot more in the future with no fear of negatively impacting the photograph.
I’ll keep it short and sweet. On most of my lenses I run at the very least a UV filter. Here in Colorado, without a UV filter – especially at high altitude, pictures tend to get a bluish cast, stripping the image of all the lovely color nuance your eyes saw when you were standing there deciding to take the picture. UV filters filter out Ultra Violet light and do have an impact on the image.
I’ll say this straight away: I use high-quality (expensive) filters on all of my lenses. Citing the first paragraph above, I’m a believer in using the highest quality piece of glass I can on any lens, no matter the lens.
I did this test with three specific filters:
- The Nikkor L39, a medium strength UV filter that filters a little more than some other UV’s. According to the old Nikkor catalogs it’s not suitable to leave on your lens all the time – but I do it, and it doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
- The Nikkor A2 filter, picked up for $10 at Englewood Camera in Littleton. The A2 filter introduces a slight warming tone to the image that – depending who you are and what you like – will either balance your image out nicely with the ‘real scene’ or make ‘too yellow.’ Different strokes.
- A Circular Polarizer, in this case the Nikkor circular polarizer. I also have and use a Heliopan slimline Circular Polarizer, but it’s 77mm and too large for the lens I was using for this test.
A word about filters, lenses and sizes. This is can be a quagmire of a topic. So many lenses have different sized front elements, creating the need for either different sized filters, or step-up/step-down rings to put smaller or larger filters on miss-matched lenses. True – you can do this. But you wind up with a bag of stuff you might not want to carry around all the time. It really depends on your priorities. There’s no absolute right approach.
My priority these days is going as light and small as possible while still getting being prepared for whatever. I decided on a series of lenses I thought I’d use often, then adapt the F6 to accommodate pre-ai lenses. This allows me to use many of the older Nikkor’s, most of which are 52mm front thread. Most of my zooms are 77mm front diameter, so I have basically two sets of filters: big and small. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than spending a fortune on redundant sizes then fumble around with a lot of extra stuff when you’re trying to take a picture.
Enough of all that. Here are two sets of images showing the results of:
a) no filter
b) A2 filter only
A2 Warming filter only
c) L39 + A2 warming filter
L39 UV + A2 Warming Filter
d) L39 + A2 warming + Circular Polarizer
L39 + A2 + Circular Polarizer
and a second set:
L39 UV filter
L39 UV + A2 Warming
L39 UV + A2 Warming + Circular Polarizer
One of the important things to me is not sacrificing image detail for slight color improvements. Let’s face it, shooting 35mm film is already at a disadvantage to medium or large format film when it comes to holding detail. So anything I can do to hold as much detail in the final image as possible – I’ll do. I was delighted to examine the “stacked” image closely and determine that there was no loss in detail, even shooting through three high-quality filters. To see the final image, click here.
Of course, there are things that will make a difference in your images, like quality and angle of light, haze, etc. so you’ll just have to play around to see what combination appeals to you. But rest assured that if you use a high-quality filter, even if you stack them, you’re not hurting the detail and sharpness of your image – providing you’re doing everything else right too.