Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Category: Fujifilm X Pro 1 Camera

Do it, Touit! New Zeiss Lenses for the Fujifilm X & Sony NEX Mount Part 1

Detail with tree of Orly Genger's Red, Blue and Yellow installation in Madison Sq. Park, NYC. 32 mm lens

Detail with tree of Orly Genger’s Red, Blue and Yellow installation in Madison Sq. Park, NYC. 32 mm lens

Last week I was privileged by Zeiss to test out a new line of lenses made for two Mirrorless digital camera systems; the Fujifilm X, and Sony NEX mounts. Being keen to mount Zeiss lenses on my XPro1 from my experience as both a Contax shooter in the 90’s and a Hassalblad shooter in the 2000’s is an understatement. I love Zeiss. Carl Zeiss was a German who pioneered lens manufacture in the 1840’s and is responsible for classic groupings of optics that would advance the image resolution of photography. It would be a truism to say, photography owes something Zeiss.

at the Zeiss Touit launch, Standard Hotel, NYC. Iphone.

at the Zeiss Touit launch, Standard Hotel, NYC. Iphone.

The new lenses have the silly and catchy name of Touit, named after a tropical parrot. Thus far they have released two lenses, a 32 mm f 1.8 and 12 mm f2.8. The plans to expand the system with a third lens, a 50 mm f2.8 macro are eminent. Further lenses will certainly follow. By this time, many blogs and review sites have posted info on the Zeiss Touits and I don’t want to repeat what has already been published, so I’ll just take you through my observations and work while I put the lenses to the task. As Richard Schleuning from Zeiss explained, these lenses were targeted towards “those that make photographs as opposed to those that take photographs”. I’m sure we could geek out on what that’s supposed to mean, but can agree that we most likely want to make photographs. By nature I’m a giver not a taker so that sits well with me. Thank you Richard, and Carl.

Spring afternoon in Madison Sq. Park. 32 mm

Spring afternoon in Madison Sq. Park. 32 mm

The lenses can be categorized as “luxury” lenses. They are made with a tactile consideration befitting a high end product. Beautiful matte black metal barrels and rubberized and recessed focus and aperture rings. Not bulky like the Fujifilm lenses and much more solid than the NEX system lenses, you can feel the quality build in your hands as well as in your wallet.

Matt Hill onstage at Paper Burlesque. 32 mm

Matt Hill onstage at Paper Burlesque. 32 mm

The 32 mm 1.8 Planar is the standard lens providing you with a 50 mm view on the APS-C size sensors. Counter that to the Fujifilm 35 mm 1.4. As I said before, the lens feels and looks great on the camera. I found the focus to be as fast if not slightly faster than the Fujifilm lens. The 32 mm comes with a large plastic lens hood, I prefer the slick and small Fujifilm metal hood to the Zeiss. Richard explained they chose plastic to keep weight down. When I tested the lens I went sans hood, the hood adds about 2.5 inches and I feel if your going Mirrorless, then go small.

Detail of stall on St. Marks Place NYC. 32 mm lens

Detail of stall on St. Marks Place NYC. 32 mm lens

After I made this image I really found the figure in the baseball cap off to the right annoying visually. I shot it at 1.8 and figured what if I had made that image with the Fujifilm lens that is a 2/3 stop faster. Would I have gotten more pleasing bokeh and thus have “blurred out” the unwanted figure?

NYWraiths

So I conducted a test by putting the camera on my trusty Oben carbon fiber tripod and shooting this still life in my apartment between the two lenses. I have uploaded a very large image so feel free to pixel peep. Also please feel free to comment which of the two lenses produced the look you like the most. Me, I have to say I love more blur that is attainable with the Fujifilm 35 1.4, but the 9 blade aperture on the Zeiss certainly does have a smooth and pleasant blur. Notice the harder edges of the green plant in the back ground as well as the embroidered skull. I do like the slightly wider field of view on the 32 mm. I also notice a color shift between the two lenses. I had a Lastolite 30″ 5 in 1 silver gold reflector off to camera right acting as a warm fill. The Fujifilm 35 mm seemed to

lens_comparison

Macro is superb with-out really being a macro lens. The 32 mm can focus down to 1.21 feet. Please consider the background of a macro shot, I think it is easy to get all caught up in the subject and then make a mistake in the background. I saw this purple flower in front of the pattern like bark of the tree and really concentrated on filling the background with the texture of the bark and being careful to not get anything but the tree in the background. The flower was easy, but man, look at that soft out of focus mottling of the bark. Yum.

Great rendition in macro range.

Great rendition in macro range.

The 1.8 rocks in low light when combined with the amazing low light capability of the Xpro1.

Paper Bulesque by Mat Hill. Dancer- Rosabelle Selavy. 32 mm f1.8 - 1/50 sec. ISO 1000 Center Meter, Tungsten

Paper Bulesque by Mat Hill. Dancer- Rosabelle Selavy. 32 mm f1.8 – 1/50 sec. ISO 1000 Center Meter, Tungsten

Thus far I’m impressed with the lenses. They do cost about 1/3 more than the all ready fairly expensive Fujifilm X lenses. Are they worth it? Stay tuned for part two, where we will see more of the 12 mm lens and some low light tests. Please don’t forget to add your comments on the 35 mm Fuji vs. the 32 mm Zeiss comparison.

~David

It’s the end of year and we’re still here: Images and Reflections of 2012

Street Smoke

The 12th year of the new millennium comes to a close and like most of us in the western world, I find my thoughts drawn to what happened, what I accomplished, created, did right, did wrong, and learned. Retrospect is trending it would seem, and it is demanded by the calendar.

These ruminations are dominated by two biggies in 2012; shooting with my Fujifilm XPro1 and starting this blog. My role at B&H Photo running the Event Space is a massive creative block of my time and I pride myself on what I can create on my off hours. I’m not alone in the assumption that a simple camera stimulated my creativity in such a profound way, Gabriel Biderman also credits the XPro1 as major new work instigator for this year. I now can state with absolute certainty that a piece of gear can inspire you to take great photographs. Learning the Ins and outs of a lens and camera forces you to milk a good photograph out of the kit, utilizing the new technology expands your horizons, and hey you know what? A few good photographs come out of it. Can I get a Camera Hallelujah!

I made a selection of images for this blog in no particular order using Adobe Bridge to look back in the image folders of 2012. These aren’t the best nor represent 2012 as a statement of the year. They are just what I choose as I looked back, they are simply images that hadn’t been blogged over the year. New stuff? Yea.

 Images and Reflection’s of 2012.

ScoobynSlash

Peopleumeetonthestreet

Antonioconnecron

CamuciaCouple

DSC00120

Metal Detector

CortonaHillside

Those images are presented in varying post editing techniques. I wouldn’t recommend mixing and matching like this, it dilutes the style of the photographer. But I do have to say, this year I really fell in love with Nik Silver Efex pro.

Listing of what got accomplished

  • Learned Wet plate photography techniques
  • The book I co-authored was translated into Korean.
  • Taught a cyanotype class with Barbara in Cortona at the Cortona on the Move festival
  • Shot a few gigs worth of image mostly with the Fujifilm XPro1.
  • Survived a contentious American presidency with my pick winning (I know that’s not creative, but trust me, it was a long and arduous political process that sapped lots of creative juice as it ran its inevitable course).
  • Was able to register the URL “Suspect Photography” and start this blog. (darn thing was taken since I have building web sites but now I got it)!
  • Exhibited in a group show at Soho Digital At Gallery
  • My Youtube video for Better Photographic Composition: Beyond the Rule of Thirds reached over 100K views… omg!
  • Saw and photographed a number of great rock concerts. Gotta keep that up, seeing live music is so inspirational.

What’s it gonna be for 2013? I have two goals. To start with, create a one week long seminar teaching photographic style development. Second, loose some weight. I need to bulk down from a large format body to a 35 mm format. We can see about APS-C size in 2014.

Happy New Year to all!

418032_10200204482417731_1009771358_n

Hurricane Sandy and the Obliteration of a Safe North East

Chelsea Pier on the Hudson River Monday October 29th

I’m not sure I know where I’m going with this blog post. Being a Manhattanite effected by the super storm Hurricane Sandy I was one of millions who lived through an interesting time to say the least. It was the week of Photo Plus East, the massive imaging trade show at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center  and we had just finished up a grueling week of camera a photo education. My favorite holiday, Halloween was a few days away and the reports of a “Frankentstorm” started being reported. The Saturday before the storm the government and media really started to talk about it. The presidential election was in the fury of its last days and even that took a back seat to the impending storm.

By Sunday it was obvious, we would be getting hit, and get hit bad. Hurricane Sandy was killing people in Caribbean, and she was moving up the eastern seaboard slowly. From the mid west of the USA a massive low pressure cold front was heading towards the Atlantic and would collide with Sandy far off the coast of the Carolinas. The weather scientists were saying this was more than the perfect storm, this was something we haven’t seen yet. Ominous.

As a photographer and not a first responder I decided I would continue shooting the event. Knowing that power was most likely going to go out, I set to charging all batteries and devices. Monday everything was closed or closing. Hurricane Sandy was approaching. I was going to fall back on photographer mode. I shot these all with the Fujifilm XPro1 with the 18mm f 2.0 lens over the next week. Images were shot in JPEG and then converted to black and white with Nik Silver Efx 2.

When the impending storm was just innocent fun.

Bottled Water was the first thing to run out. Monday the 29th.

The Mayor’s office began mandatory evacuations and broke the city into three zones. Zone A was expecting severe flooding and on Sunday they ordered evacuation from a block from our building. The Chelsea galleries are famous in this neighborhood, and they would be right smack in the center of Zone A.

The Galleries of Chelsea braced for the impact, and flooding.

Things we take for granted, like access to our parks closed and locked up.

Art in NYC is bad ass. They stop for nothing.

The wind picked up Monday night and the storm smacked into Manhattan around 7:30 p.m.. I pretty much stopped shooting at this point and waited out the storm. We lost power shortly afterward.

and then the lights went out. The storm had hit Manhattan. 8:16 PM Monday the 29th.

I thought I had eclipsed my fathers wisdom was “a know it all”. Turns out Dad can still dispense with good advice, he had recommended we fill the bath tub with water. I followed Dad’s advice and was very glad because when the power went, so did the water. I shall not doubt my fathers capacity for wisdom again, if we had not had a bath tub of water to use to flush the toilette that would have put a huge damper on the next 5 days.

News became a luxury in a dark city. The morning of October 30th.

houston

Manhattan had taken its hit. Overall not too bad, severe flooding and a few downed trees. However three other parts of New York, Breezy Point in Queens, The Rockaways (out by JFK airport) and Staten Island would get a hammering of epic proportions. On election day, November 6th I took a trip with Brandon Remler to Staten Island to survey the damage. What I saw will be forever in my mind of the power of nature and the futility of man to thrive in her shadow.

Cleaning up after the massive flood in Staten Island. Sense of humor is still dominant in New Yorkers. November 7th, 7 days after Sandy landed.

Boats in Midland Park Staten Island, tossed like kid’s toys.

The boats created a surreal sense of place, all out of place.

The scope of property damage was unreal.

Homes pushed off their foundations by storm surges.

In some places, the ground itself was washed away.

I witnessed devastation, but also a community united. The American flag was ever present.

Crooked Church in Staten Island, still standing.

I walked away from this experience with emotions. Everyone you meet asked how you weathered the storm, and you ask them too. I actually felt guilty saying I had no electricity nor water and lived on the 18th floor without elevator service. Those are small inconveniences next to the fires of Breezy Point, the washouts of low lying Rockaways and Staten Island. We are told that this will now be a current state, vicious hurricanes and flooding. NYC now has it’s natural disaster, its earth quake/brush fire/volcano. Water. That will be our challenge.

Darwin, Taxidermy, and the Spiders from Mars. Meandering the halls of The American Museum of Natural History

Skulls 1/50 Second f1.4 iso 1250 Processed in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.0 “Yellowed Preset”

Taking class trips while in school when I was a kid always promised an exciting day. You got to jump on a bus and leave the tedium of the classrooms behind and explore some thing new. All it took was a permission slip singed, a few bucks from Mom and Dad and off you went to somewhere special and different. My favorite was a trip to the Museum of Natural History in NYC. So much to see; take in a planetarium show, rub a meteorite, and see arguably the best taxidermy in the world exhibited in very cool dioramas. The museum is where learning, culture, and adventure collide to stimulate your imagination to new heights. In a word, “neato”.

Entrance 1/1200 Second f2.8 iso 200

Barbara and I were off to see the Spiders Alive show on this lovely Columbus day. We had this planned for about 3 weeks and truth be told, I really couldn’t wait to connect to my inner child and hit the museum. So I grabbed my faithful Fujifilm X Pro 1 and figuring it would be dimly lit I chose the 35 f 1.4 to document the day. Normally I wouldn’t post these images, just keep them for myself as I am working on other blog entries of shall we say, “more important nature”? However, marching about the museum’s halls with the X Pro 1 gave me a photographic tingling and so I figured I’d share. Once again, experiencing the world is enhanced when you see it as a photographer and the results were better than I thought. This whole blog post was shot using the 35mm 1.4 capturing standard film sim mode as a jpeg.

Leslie the Tarantula Detail 1/100 Second f1.4 iso 200

Spider Detail (crop of 50%) 1/50 Second f1.4 iso 2000

The American kids were super respectful during the demonstration. Notice the hands up when they have a question? They were attentive and into everything the docent was describing.

Docent and kids 1/50 Second f1.4 iso 1250

Rows of specimen bottles 1/50 Second f5.6 iso 2000 Macro Mode

The following is various taxidermy.

Note: All images are  shot through glass.

1/50 sec f 1.8 iso 400

1/50 sec f 1.8 iso 800

1/50 sec f 1.4 iso 2000

1/50 sec f 1.8 iso 800

Something wonderful for all those curious about where we came from (humanity that is) is the Hall of Origins. Something I always remember from my childhood is the hominid couple walking across the plains. They are short, hairy and and have an affection to each other. They greet you entering this vast temple to Darwin and it’s always a pleasure to see the lovers from another epoch.

1/50 sec f 1.4 iso 3200 Processed in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.0 Antique 1 setting

I asked a security guard if any creationists had issue with this hall. After all, Adam and Eve have no place here, and with the abundant skulls and supporting arguments for evolution present, creationists would find no sympathizers. The guard said he had been on duty for three and half years and no one had ever spoken or acted with animosity to the exhibits singularity.

I was very impressed with the quality of the images two fold, first the auto focus did great shooting through the glass, secondly the quality of the overall image. I had set the camera to auto iso of 6400 and kept it in auto focus the whole time. I loved the shooting wide open most of the time and the depth of field accentuated the subject matter terrifically in my estimation. Once again, the Fujifilm X Pro 1 delivers stunning results and is a pleasure to keep as a companion around your neck as you explore the glorious world about you.

~David

DSLR is Dead, Long live DSLR

Gene Simmons of Kiss, still spewing blood after 40 years.

The grumblings of this rumor started with my friend Brandon a few weeks ago. We’re both “photo industry” guys and we are privy to charts, numbers and insider information (of course this is photo industry insider info so we wont be chillin’ with Bernie Maddox) about cameras and the technology that drives them. In the past few days after the big Photokina show (photo industry trade show in Europe where half the new camera’s of the year are announced) a flurry of “Mirrorless” cams were announced. Also back in January 2012, photo blogger and all around good guy, Trey Ratcliffe posted “DSLRS are a dying Breed”. Seems a lot of attention is being mentioned online about the future of camera gear and it seems the poor old DSLR is getting it’s mirrored rump slapped.  However, I disagree whole-heartedly with these predictions.  The DSLR is a vital tool in photography, it has its place and shant be replaced with a Mirrorless camera they way the DSLR made the film based SLR obsolete. On the contrary, DSLR lenses and functionality will continue to increase and become much more popular as the coveted full size sensor becomes more affordable. For a long time I believe, at least a few more generations of photographers. Many of my students ask which is better? I don’t believe one is better than the other inherently, but which is better matched to the user. I do get rankled when I hear that DSLR is dead. I think far from it. Very far, like galaxy far.

First I’m going to characterize the users, the photographers who will be making images so we can establish what they need. The first letter will act as code applying to the following lists, the strong points and weak points of DSLR vs. Mirrorless and which photographer can benefit. This is a very fair way of evaluating the merits of each class of camera.

Types of Photographer

<PP> Pro Photographer: Someone who pays for their food and shelter with money generated by photographs they make. In most cases, they will specialize in genre such as journalism, fashion, portrait, event (weddings and such), sports, commercial (companies need photos of all the time), fine art, and the a common one, the “freelancer” who will shoot just about anything to make buck. Often they may have studied photography in school and fallen in love with the medium. Pro Photographers often blur the lines teaching, lecturing, testing and taking on new projects as they present themselves. But for all, this is their primary source of income.

<AH> Advanced Hobbyist: Someone who loves photography including the images, the gear, and the simple act of clicking a shutter and capturing a slice of time and place. They can be fanatical in their pursuit of photography. They purchase the latest gear, they take photo trips and join clubs and enter photo competitions. If their 2.0 minded, they might also have a heavy online presences with social media such as Flickr, Pinterist and such. I’m also going to put the fine art photographer in this category. The emphasis is on vision with a solid versatile camera for the needs of these shooters.

<CS> The Casual Shooter: They would never call themselves a photographer, they just seek to document important people and occasions in their life. They are the vacationers, family, and friends. They are not usually artistic nor the have the inclination to really care about the finer aspects of a good photograph. They often know a good photo when they see one, but their quest is to record a slice of time and place sharply, well exposed and with a minimal of effort and size.

What cameras will this generation be shooting with? BadAss I’d say!

Merits and Shortcomings of DSLR and Mirrorless

Long lenses: Long and fast telephoto optics is plentiful for the DSLR. Since these lenses tend be long and heavy, having a larger camera on the back of them really helps your maneuver the whole package to get what you want. PP, AH

Easy Ergonomics Due to Larger Size Camera: DSLR are indeed larger, and that can help by providing more space to put buttons and larger buttons at that. The Olympus Pen cameras in particular have very small and annoying buttons to navigate menu and camera features. Having a good grip on the camera can help make it more easy to use and less fumbling. This rings so true when working with heavy fast optics. PP, AH, CS

WYSIWYG or “What you see is what you get”: No matter how good a EVF (electronic view finder) is, your still looking at pixels. Movement, gain, grain is all presented in the viewfinder if your lucky and even have one on Mirrorless cameras. That archaic mirror reflex system found on DSLRs lets you see in analog, like the world was meant to be seen. I don’t want to compose looking at a TV screen, because that’s exactly what an EVF is, a miniature TV. I’d rather look at the real world when I’m making a photograph. I want to “feel” the place and find the image. I have never been a huge fan of video games and seeing the scene gives it more tangibility.  PP, AH

Pros shoot with Pro “looking” Cameras: Show up to shoot a wedding with the same camera that Uncle Bob has will make the Bride wonder why they are paying you the big bucks. It may be superficial to make this claim, but it’s true. There are different levels that a pro photographer can attain. Lets say the highest is shooting for Vogue, you will need to project an image to have access to this type of photography, and yes, a Hassalblad H4 will impress the art directors, models, and most important, the client. Show up with a Panasonic GH3 and your going to get laughed at. PP

Value: $500 bucks gets you a really nice DSLR. $3000 gets you’re an extremely capable camera. I think that there are great values in the range of DSLR’s out there. CS

Compact and Light Weight: For the photographer who travels, this is fantastic. Hauling around lots of heavy and cumbersome gear is annoying and for some folk prohibitive. Many of my female students have small hands, and the smaller cameras fit into them better. Some of my students have been older and between arthritis and other physical reasons a smaller camera is easier on their wrists and back. The photographer Bob Krist who is known as a travel photographer likes to use these smaller cams because he is restricted often by weight limits on bush planes. CS, AH (and sometimes the PP if travel is their specialty)

Performance vs. Cost: Bigger sensors provide more information and can yield a better image. Especially if your printing large or will be cropping. Larger sensors to tend to also have a greater dynamic range to capture highlight and shadows. As of 2012, it is less expensive to purchase a DSLR with a APS-C size sensor than a comparable mirror-less camera. The Canon Rebel T3  costs $479 which is the least expensive DSLR on the market. The least expensive Mirrorless that has a APS-C size sensor, the Sony NEX 5n is $499. All the other models of Mirrorless that have APS-C size or micro 4/3 are much more expensive. CS 

Lens Selection: You can mount more lenses without adaptors onto the DSLR system. While this may be true you may never venture out to using a 1970’s vintage Canon FD, Nikon AI or maybe that hip Russian Zenit lens. Mirrorless cameras can use various mount adaptors that can be costly but usually the focus will be hampered by the EVF. The only one that does it well is Sony with their focus peaking feature, but I don’t care to evaluate focus with shimmering white dot matrixes personally. PP, AH

Cool Factor: DSLR cams hearken back to the golden era of film based 35mm photography. There is nothing like making pictures with a SLR, the clicking sound, the heft of the camera and the strapping on of a camera that says Nikon. Mirrorless cameras are radical and hi-tech. they often don’t even look like a camera. AH, CS

Talk to the skull, er I mean hand.

I hope this post sheds light on the recent debate. As for me, I chose the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 mainly because it gave me parallax corrected viewfinder, performance, and size plus a whole lotta cool factor. I stand by saying that any camera in the hand of a person who has vision and some technical skill can make a great image from that camera. Can they make many? Then it takes the right camera to photographer combo.

The place is really jumping to the Hiwatt amps,
‘Til a 20-inch cymbal fell and cut the lamps,
In the blackout they dance right into the aisle,
And as the doors fly open even the promoter smiles,
Someone takes his pants off and the rafters knock,
Rock is dead, they say,
Long live rock, long live rock, long live rock

The Who

~David Brommer

Finding Photographic Style In Italy

Vespa rider in Milan

Achieving photographic style and understanding the traits that make imagery posses its own distinguishable idiom that resonates with the photographers voice is a daunting and difficult artistic undertaking. As each devotee explores photography and builds their visual vocabulary inevitably certain photographers will rise to the top. Highly crafted and odd works by Joel Peter Witkin, Perfect landscapes of Ansel Adams, snippets of time expertly caught by Bresson, they all share their own unique photographic style that differentiates and identifies the photographer to the photograph. There are many more of course, but those three come to mind as evoking strong, and yet vastly different styles. I’ll invite you later to watch a two hour lecture where I delve deeply into the anatomy of photographic style but this moment I want  to show off an exercise if you will, a self assignment that I give myself every summer for the past decade.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo bucolic, Florence

Every year my wife Barbara and I spend our vacation in Tuscany. We have this wonderful home that was Barbara’s grandmothers and has been in her family ever since. The back room is used as a dark room, and there is even a “camera ready room” for coating cyanotypes, loading film holders, and organizing gear for shoots. This photo “mini” project starts in Milan, and then migrates to a small village below Cortona. For a decade now I have spent weeks of my summer in this bucolic medieval countryside and the narrow streets of hill top towns.  I have shot sun flowers (warning: an August trip is a bit late for sun flowers, if you are into shooting them, then I suggest a early July visit), cipressi trees, castles, farm houses, and graveyards. In many ways it’s a photographic paradise and the hordes of tourists with all manner of cameras will surely stop and shoot these unique characteristics.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka Florence Duomo

I am interested in having my vision standing out from the crowd. I seek to create images that capture the subject, yet show it in a way that is uncommon and unique. I have to look deeply into my photographic skill set, decimate the technique, subject matter, capture, post process and imagine a way to complete the project with a single voice. It’s hard work and for me, I had to really delve deeply and think about it.

vicolo in Cortona

VIcolo in Cortona

In the past, I have worked on projects such as “Italy Looking Up” where I only shot aiming the camera upwards. No straight on shooting what so ever. I have shot “Adams” style large formate with my Deardorff 8×10, Lensbaby and 35 mm film, Toy Camera with a Black Bird Fly, Nikon Rangefinder with Ilford XP2, and Hasselblad 2 1/4 color print. The project “Instant Italy” was captured using Fujifilm Instax cameras exclusively. By creating sever restrictions on gear you can emerge with a unique style, simply because your confined to something that allows less visual options.

Cortona

Cortona

This year I resolved to shoot with my new and trusty Fujifilm X Pro 1. I would get a chance to explore the nuances of the 35 mm 1.4 and of course, old faithful, the 18 mm 2.0. On the road to photographic style, shooting with primes or limited focal lengths add a common visual denominator, that of the angel of view. No sloppy zooming back and forth here… its either wide or normal view. If I can’t get close to a detail, then its going to be small in the frame.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I also decided to make a dramatic choice that would really effect the way I composed my images, I set the camera aspect ratio to 1:1. I’d be working in square format, like my beloved red Hassy. I would also assign a B &W or monochrome film simulation mode. This also means I would be capturing less information on each picture I took. The files went from being 45.7 megabytes to 15.2 megabytes under these setting parameters. I know, I could shoot Raw and have both the big fat files and also the smaller “assignment style” files, but I like to live on the photographic edge.

Either I make this work or I have nothing. I love drama, so the B&W film mode I used most often was the B&W Red filter.

Snack cart, Milan

Snack cart, Milan

It’s not easy to shoot this way, by not falling back on Raw + Jpeg capture you are showing a level of conviction on shooting using a specific technique. Square and B&W however is an interesting choice, because a perfect square is geometrically pleasing and lets face it, B&W is cool like the Fonzie.

Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll

Time was limited, and I had other projects also on the burner. I thought about how the technique could apply to more specific subject matter, like hands, or people. In Camucia, on Thursday mornings the market attracts lots of genuine local flavor. In particular is a vendor who I call Senor Porchetta. His porchetta wagon always has a long line of bustling Tuscans getting their porchetta fill. He is jovial, equally good with pig or knife and knows his fegatini like Silvio Berlusconi knows a 17 year old.

Senor Porchetta

Senor Porchetta

Hands in the Cortona Market

Hands in the Cortona Market

I can’t recall the name of the photographer who said, “if you’re not sure, get closer”, but they were was certainly on to something. Engage your macro, and come in close. I love the macro on the 18 f2.0 is 7.09″ (18 cm) as compared to the 35 f1.4 which is 11.02″ (28 cm), the 18 lets you get in a little closer, but beware, the lens takes in a lot of the scene.

Detail of locks on the Ponte Vechio, Florence. Shot with 18mm f2.0.

Moms sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana.

Mom’s sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana, 18mm f2.0

Fujifilm also has a macro 60mm 2.4. I’ve yet to test this one, but as I continue to work with the 35 1.4 I’m sure to add it to the arsenal later in the year.

35mm 1.4 with a 200% crop

If you have read this far and are liking these images and wish to develop your style or just hear more ranting from me on style, here is a link to the 2 hour program on Youtube, “Finding Photographic Style” recorded in the B&H Event Space this year.

Cortona Cops

Cortona Cops

I also brought my Speed Graphic 4×5 on this trip loaded with Fujifilm Acros to do some cyanotype work. But thats a post for another day.

Ciao!

~David George Brommer

Adventures in Dripping Wet Photography, Wet Plate Collodion That Is.

Portrait of the Photographer Brenton Hamilton, 8×10 Tintype, 14″ Kodak Commercial Ektar 8 Seconds @ F 8

Late last June, I took a class on Wet Plate Collodion at the Maine Media Workshops with Jell Enfield. I had been wanting to take this class for a few years, but the schedules never seemed to coincide. However in 2012 the stars were in alignment and there I found myself in one of my favorite places in the world, the Hass Lab on the Maine Workshops homestead campus. Things were about to get wet and some interesting images were to be taken.

2012 Collodion Class at MMW shot at Rockport Harbor.
Fuji Xpro 1, 18mm Lens post process NIK Silver EFx Antique Plate II Filter.

Possibly one of the best aspects of this class were the other students and teacher assistants. Seems that Wet Plate attracts an odd lot of photographers so our group was always on the large size, which was great because a model (interesting, beautiful & cool at that) was easy to get in front of the camera. Also, the large number of T/A’s made it easy to get chemistry poured, cars loaded, darkroom tents set up, and advice. We had the assistance of a local who is a supplier for wet plate paraphernalia, Niles Lund. He would prove invaluable (he did a mod on one of my Fidelity 8×10 holders to a wet plate holder for $40) as a second to our fearless and silver stained instructor, the inimical Jill Enfield. Jill mixes passion, intuitiveness, and experience into her wet plate endeavors. It was an honor to spend the week with Jill and learn this technique. Check out Jill’s time lapse video of her shooting in NYC’s Tompkins Sq. Park to get a feel for Jill and the process.

Portrait of Kendra 8×10 Tintype Kodak 14″ Comercial Ektar Lens, 10 Seconds F8 Note: Kendra is covered in beautiful tattoos, however since Collodion is sensitive to UV light, tattoos don’t show up in the image.

I’m not going to get into the technical details of wet plate. My fellow student, uber geek and all around super cool photographer chick Sarah did a great job describing the technique on her tumblr blog. So if you aren’t familiar with wet plate I suggest you go, otherwise Ill summarize. Before there was digital there was film, and before there was film there was wet plate. Wet plate is primitive, you have to prepare, shoot and develop your plate all within 10 minutes. In the early days of photography back in 1850 it was state of the art, but now it is ranked as one the golden children of the alternative process movement. Wet plate is a slow speed black and white process with film speed rating ISO 6 to  ISO 10. Thus the long exposures compared to.. well… anything else! It’s also difficult to do, you have to possess manual dexterity to get the various chemistry to adhere, flow, coat, and develop. This process is not for the klutzy, you will have really sloppy plates. And the weird part? Sometimes that’s not bad.

Portrait of Sarah 8×10 Tintype Dagor 8 1/4″ 12 Seconds @ F 8

One thing that was going through my head lately as I embraced the Wet Plate technique, was how does it fit in the “big” picture of photography? Why would one do this whilst the look can be easily replicated in Photoshop? I’m sure the wet plate practinioner just gasped, but really, it’s a lot of work and commitment to make wet plate collodion photographs opposed to running CS6 loaded with a some NIK filters. There are many reasons to do Wet Plate all digital joking aside. For those of us who like to stain your fingers and dig into the process, it takes you back to a humble, hard and complicated era of photography. Think of it as a way to walk in your Great, Great Grand Daddy’s shoes. (I’m not implying my lineage includes a photographer, as far as I know, aside from Uncle Harold, I’m really the first to embrace it). I made it hard on my self, going for 8×10 instead of 4×5, my images took twice the dexterity and acumen to accomplish a good plate. I like to ride a bitch however; I made two 4×5 Ambrotypes and switched over to the Deardorff. Jill also shoots with a Deardorff, and it is a choice camera to work with. Darn thing is solid like a Sherman tank (and just as heavy).

Portrait of Bari, 8×10 Tintype, Kodak Commercial 14″ 10 Seconds @ F8 Note the bad pour of developer that caused the black splotch.

A small concern about Wet Plate is its look. It attracts and scares me at the same time. It’s a look that you can point your finger at and say, “ohh wet plate, cool”. Jill did mention the ability to use watercolor pigment and a few other tricks to own your image more than just executing a great plate. Niles was using an old Dallmeyer brass lens with out a shutter, just timing his shots the old fashioned way, removing the lens cap and counting “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand”. Throw precision away with spent developer, because Jill’s count was different than Niles count and I used my handy timer from my view camera kit. See, I learned view camera from Gordon Hutchings who learned from Morley Bear who are F64’s at heart. I’m a bit of a zoney, for better or worse so I found some of the wet plate technique haphazard and random. The look however is ingenuous to the technique, and that is where I have a hard time swallowing the process. This may be the key, process. Wet Plate is thick with process, control of the chemistry, effects of contamination, and also long exposures. The portraits taken during the era of wet plate were all almost somber and dour expressions. You can’t hold an ear-to-ear grin of a smile for 20 seconds. As a wet plate subject and to record a sharp face you must relax your muscles and be very still. The results are a serious subject. Landscapes tend to take on a pictorialist feel, and again, slow shutters speeds make for odd bedfellows including foliage in the wind soft, water amorfourous and action blurry. Nature of the beast when you eat shoot at ISO 6.

Portrait of the Incredible Mya, 8×10 Tintype, 14″ Kodak Commercial Ektar 10 Seconds @ F 8

Would I switch to this workflow and shoot a project with it? I’m going to say the answer is no. My reason is that I need to concentrate on the subject and executing the project as a whole. My current project, Battlefield Cant has already begun with Ilford FP4 8×10 film, I can’t switch now. And even if I did, setting up portable darkrooms and maintaining the chemistry in the field is way too invested for the return. That all being said, would I shoot wet plate again? Yes, it is an honor to shoot wet plate as our photographic forefathers did. Wet plate is complicated and the results somewhat unpredictable, and that may be it’s joy.

JIll Enfield demonstrating coating technique. Note the portable tent darkroom.
Fuji Xpro 1, 18mm Lens post process NIK Silver EFx Antique Plate II Filter.

Aside from learning the wet plate technique I got to cover some new ground. Because the class attracted seemingly eccentric and cool devotees I got to practice 8×10 Portraiture. I really cannot take a photo of a mundane person; I need some style or something strong inside a person to capture. It had been bugging me, how do you capture a person with an 8×10 view? Doesn’t the camera and film holder come between you and your subject? Square up camera, focus, place subject, compose, focus again, hold really still, insert film holder, and make exposure. Daunting right? I worked through it, I asked my subjects some thing cheesy but effective, I asked them to hold really still and look into the lens while telling the camera a secret, using telepathy of course. The results on several were quite compelling. Brenton Hamilton’s portrait is a favorite of mine. Photographic opportunism presented itself when Joyce Tenneson paddled up in a kayak to where we were set up on Day 4. Once again, that creative cauldron of Maine Media Workshops tests you, makes you “go up levels”.

Portrait of Jesse 8×10 Ambrotype Dagor 8 1/4″ 8 seconds @ F 11

Life is but a dream with Joyce Tenneson kayaking in Rockport Maine. 8×10 Tintype, Dagor 8 1/4 lens 12 Seconds F6.3

I’d like to thank Maine Media Workshops, Jill Enfield and my classmates for wonderful week of photography.

%d bloggers like this: