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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.