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Peter Lee Monochrome Photography

Classic black and white film photography with the occasional digital image

Month

August 2018

The saddle shed

Background

This time last year I was invited to take photographs at a remote sheep grazing property on the Bell River some 30kms from StuartTown. Horses are indispensable in this rugged. drought affected country and the saddle shed is an integral part of the property’s overall operation. My intention was to document important buildings and landscapes on this property using a large format camera in order to keep a “closed loop” as I would have needed to outsource scanning if I had used a medium format camera.

The Exposure and Development

I set up my 4 by 5 Crown Graflex with 135 Schneider Symmar S lens inside the saddle shed- as I had anticipated some very long exposures in the shearing sheds the only film I had loaded was Fuji Acros100 .The bright sun was already high in the sky and was bleeding through gaps in the iron walls, lighting up the dim dusty interior of the shed. I did not anticipate that these narrow shafts of strong light had biased the incident light meter resulting in an incorrect exposure reading of 8 secs @ F32, at least one stop underexposure.Back home I developed the negative in Rodinal 1:50 with minimal agitation but, concerned about the excessive contrast in the scene, reduced the development time far too much, resulting in a partially underexposed/underdeveloped negative. Whilst it had low density and contrast, some shadow details were present.

To come up with an acceptable print even in a wet darkroom would be a challenge.

Saddles148

My Workflow

I used my usual workflow for large format work, scanning the negative with my Epson V700 scanner, editing in Photoshop then making the final print on my Epson 3880 scanner. Details of the structured workflow is as follows-

GLOBAL ADJUSTMENTS

I scanned the negative at 1600 dpi as a linear positive, setting the black point at 0, white point at 255 and the gamma (midpoint) at 1, opening the 16 bit grayscale tiff in Photoshop. I then created a Levels layer, reset the black point and white point to align with the histogram then adjusted the midpoint until I was happy with the result. On a new layer I straightened the image, resized it to 14 by 11 inches, then used the spot healing brush to remove dust/ spots (for white spots the darken mode and for black spots, the lighten mode). I then flattened the image, renaming it as my stock file, and made a 10 by 8 print to use as a reference point for future edits.

Saddlesstockstock

BROAD  ADJUSTMENTS

From examination the stock print, I could see the tonal values in the mid tones and shadows particularly in the lower half of the image, were “muddy” and that a number of sections of the image had to be improved independently of others. To address this , I made a series of luminosity masks, eventually deciding on 3 masks to boost the tonal range of  key areas without influencing others  e.g. a Zone 3 luminosity masks would enable me darken specific areas of the saddle or anything around Zone 3

Zone 3 luminosity maskweb

I  then painted on the masks with a soft white brush or used a curves adjustment which would only impact on the white or partially  off white areas ( i.e. black conceals , white reveals).In other areas, I made a number of curves adjustments, inverted the masks (to black ) and selectively painted on those areas with a low opacity brush building up contrast with each stroke. I  saved this file as a PSD which would allow me to come back and make any adjustments if required

Saddle broad adjustment

LOCAL ADUSTMENTS

Some fine tuning at this point was necessary so I flattened the image and created a new layer and applied the history brush using a number of blending modes, painting on selected areas with a soft brush around 6-10% opacity. The history brush blending modes most used are –

  • Multiply– darkens local areas.
  • Screen– lightens local areas
  • Colour Dodge-lightens light/white areas only
  • Colour Burn– darkens dark areas and shadows only
  • Difference – Darkens extreme highlights
  • Soft Light– increase contrast in local areas

In practice, some example of this are –

  • I painted on the light rope on the saddle and the light canvas under the saddle with the history brush in both the screen and colour dodge blending modes to lighten and highlight these areas.
  • I painted on the dark parts of the saddle with colour burn and multiply blending modes and the writing on the box and signpost to bring them out more.
  • I “outlined” some edges in the image, using a reasonably hard but very fine brush in multiply mode at 15% opacity to separate objects within the image.

Once I was happy with the result , I flattened it and sharpened it using a third party sharpening tool Focus Magic applied through a mid-tone luminosity mask to restrict sharpening to only those areas.

PRINTING

I decided to print this image on Museo Silver a 100% cotton heavyweight archival fine art paper with no optical brighteners and a high D Max to enhance the deep blacks in the image. I used a custom warm profile by Les Walkling – in this way the slightly warm toning is applied in the print driver rather than Photoshop meaning the print could still be made in Epson’s Advanced Black and White mode rather than the colour mode. I waited 24 hours for the print to dry and applied 3 coats of Hahnemuhle Protective Spray.

Saddle Hut001 Panatomic X FINAL by11

Affordable medium format film cameras- part 1.

These days our brains are being bombarded by millions of photographic images from digital /phone cameras posted online web each day. So much so that photography has to a certain extent lost its value as serious form of artistic expression with so many clinically perfect images being produced . Even notable images are only as good as their last “like’ on social media as many people no longer make prints. Over the past few years film photography has enjoyed a  revival as people are looking for a more “organic” experience that re- establishes the true value of a photograph.

This revival has resulted in prices of film cameras “going through the roof” – e.g. basic plastic 35 mm point and shoot cameras that were being sold for $30  three years ago are now selling for up to $600, making getting into film photography difficult for some people. However, if people are willing to forgo the convenience of fully automatic cameras, there are some good bargains to be had out there, with the added advantage of providing the user with a greater “organic” experience particularly if they develop and print their own negatives and not leave it to a professional lab to do it for them. The easiest way to do this is to work with black and white film which has a timeless pictorial look.

Medium format cameras by virtue of their much larger negative size, will produce prints with far more detail than even the most expensive 35mm cameras but some people new to photography are concerned about the perceived initial cost and the complexity of operating these cameras and shy away from them.

One of my favourite cameras is a 1938 Zeiss Ikon 521/2 medium format folder that produces large 6 by 9 negatives, yet is capable of being slipped into a large coat pocket and carried around. I estimate its value at around $130 making it affordable for anyone wishing to get into film photography .This particular camera has a sharp 4 element F3.5 105mm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens and produces images that have a beautiful pictorial look.

 

Operating the camera is a truly “organic” experience as every part of the process has to be done by hand, from opening the camera, advancing the film (using the red window at the rear of the camera), cocking the shutter and focusing .The latter can be daunting at first as the camera uses zone focusing – the user needs to estimate the distance from the subject then set this distance on the lens. In practice one gets used to this quickly and it is possible to produce very clear images in a short time. Anyone who has zone focused their digital camera for street photography will have no trouble in adapting to a zone focus film cameras. There is a sense of satisfaction in using this camera that is only rivalled by operating a large format camera .It has the added advantage of slowing the user down, slowing their mind and allowing them to think more about the photograph itself rather than taking quick “snaps” with an automatic film camera. Underneath are a few images taken with this camera.

Milthorpe car webCADIA LOGS 8M FOCUS

Cashens skull Epson_web

Cashens windowweb

Cashens NO

Old House Woodward st110

When buying a folding camera like the above there are a few things to look out for. Make sure the bellows are light tight and that the camera opens and closes without any obstruction. Make sure the focusing mechanism is smooth and the slow shutter speeds sound plausible especially the 1 sec speed. Some shutters on these old cameras can be dry and run slowly at low speeds.

Of course, this is not the only medium format camera that can be purchased cheaply. There are many other types including twin lens reflex cameras- a much underrated one being the Flexaret 6 by 6 .Look for the well known and respected EBay seller Cupog who always have a few of these for sale at very reasonable prices.

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