I took this photo a couple of years ago at the Oklahoma City Red Earth Festival. I shot it both with digital color and black and white film. When I shot it I scanned it and used Photoshop to clip out the background, but for my 4x5x365 project I thought I would scan it in showing the entire frame. I believe this guy said he was a Sioux warrior from North Dakota. If you have never been to a Native American festival, you really should go. They are quite a visual treat. But don’t call their outfits “costumes”. They are not costumes. Not even close. Costumes connotates fake and these are anything but fake. These are clothes their ancestors wore and the people are trying to keep their customs and traditions alive. Use the words “clothing” or “regalia”. A much better term.
Yesterday I posted digital images of Micha that I had converted to black and white. Today I post actual film images shot on black and white film – either Kodak TMAX-100 or Ilford HP5. I used bothy my Toyo VRX-125 studio view camera and my Pentax 6×7. To me, there is a distinctly different “feel” to black and white film images. Digital photos are “perfect” while there are plenty of very minor flaws in film. I have tried replicating the film look with digital, but film is way to organic in my opinion to easily replicate with a digital process. Again, we shot some of these photos in studio and others on location throughout Edmond and Guthrie.
“Are you crazy!!”
I got this question a lot while at Tulsa Raceway this past weekend, toting around my giant Toyo VRX-125 4″x5″ view camera. I was there with my client Tombo Racing and shot several digital images for them, but also wanted to get some old time black and white images show on film. I brought both my 4×5 and my Pentax 6×7 film cameras. The 6×7 was pretty easy – it handles like my DSLR’s and has a great viewfinder for manual focusing (more pictures from it later). However, I also wanted some pictures from my 4×5 of this high octane sport.
This was not an easy task.
My Toyo must be mounted on a tripod to shoot. Some older 4×5 like the Speed Graphic are designed to make it easier to shoot sports. They can be hand held and come with an external “finder” and focusing grid. For my Toyo, I have to focus by looking at the ground glass and once I load film, no more focusing. So I was having to basically pre-focus and guess where the car or bike would be. I tried several different vantage points to get the shot and exposed 10 sheets of film total. However, only 2 shots actually turned out and with these I missed focus by a hair. I had some trouble developing the negatives so that cost me about 6 shots, and the remaining pictures were either out of focus completely or improperly exposed.
I am going to keep after it – I plan to go to the PMRA races in Tulsa again in the future and see if I can do a better job next time. In the meantime, here are the only shots I got from the drag races with my Toyo 4×5 camera.
Why do I love shooting with 4″x5″ film? Why do I hate it so much?
I shoot digital images almost daily throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states for a wide variety of local, national, and even international clients. Digital is fast, efficient, beautiful and offers a well proven workflow. My background is in information technology so I was a very early adopter to digital imaging, starting way back in 1999 with my first Nikon digital camera. I have shot hundreds of thousands of digital images since and have been published in countless magazines, even shooting nearly 100 magazine and book covers.
So why do I continue to struggle with my secret love affair with film?
Actually, I don’t think my love affair is strictly with film, although it is certainly growing on me over time. My first love is shooting my Toyo 4″x5″ view cameras. Give me a camera with swings, tilts, and shifts and I will drool over it all day long. Actually I will drool over it for years. If I could justify the cost of a medium or better yet, large format digital back, I would probably not mess with film and just shoot digital all the time. But maybe not.
I shot film at the beginning of my career. Because of my volume of work and love of medium and large format cameras, I did my own film processing. Not in a darkroom like most photographers of the day. I developed using a film changing bag and a Jobo processor, then would scan my film into my computer. I never was much on using a darkroom and printing analog with an enlarger, and have no desire to learn those skills. I am very comfortable with my digital darkroom.
What I have found over the years is that digital is perfect. Almost too perfect. The images from my digital cameras come out with nary a scratch or dust spec on them. Every now and then I will get a bit of dust, but nothing a good sensor cleaning won’t take care of.
A film image is seldom perfect. Scratch that. A film image is NEVER perfect. That is the beauty of film. It is organic. Film has grain, which cannot be replicated with digital, no matter how hard one tries or what filters are used. Film is difficult to shoot. Oh, 35mm film is pretty easy, especially with modern film cameras. Medium format is increasingly more difficult, but still pales in comparison to shooting large format film (or wet plate/tintype – never done that but have watched the process and it redefines the word difficult).
Why would I still shoot film then? Why not just stick with beautiful digital images? That is where the money is, that is what clients purchase, and it is SO much easier.
Why do people still hunt wildlife with a bow and arrow? Modern firearms make the task SO much easier? Why do music aficionados still buy vinyl records? Why do coffee lovers grind and brew their own coffee?
For me, it is the passion. The passion of mastering a very difficult, demanding task. Of the large format film I shoot, maybe 30% of the images turn out good enough to even scan, much less look at and enjoy. The process of loading film, setting up my camera, properly exposing the film, unloading camera, transporting film, and then hand developing the film is a road fraught full of potholes and land mines. Screw up one part of the process and I ruin a sheet of film. And believe me, I have ruined a LOT of 4×5 film.
But every now and then I get something that is scannable. And even rarer still, I get a gem. An image that takes my breath away. An image that rekindles my love affair with film and my 4×5 camera. My recent photo of my father is one very recent example.
Earlier this week I worked with Micha Young, a beautiful lady from Enid who I have photographed before. We spent the day shooting film and digital images, just for fun. I don’t get to do that very often – usually I am shooting for paying clients. This time it was just for fun. No deadlines, no pressure. I used my digital camera as my “polariod” to test my settings for my film camera. I shot both with my Toyo VRX-125 4×5 film camera and my Pentax 6×7 medium format camera. I exposed 12 sheets of film in my Toyo. I lost one in developing. If I get 2 images from the batch I will be ecstatic.
The image below is not one of them. I normally wouldn’t even scan this image, much less share it. But the image is kind of cool, in a haunting sort of way, and shows just how difficult it is to shoot and hand process 4×5 film. I think this image was improperly exposed or I had a light leak or my flash fired twice (which happened on a few images). I also had some type of film streaking right down the middle. The image lacked contrast so I had to pump up the contrast in my computer. This image would never suffice for a client and normally not even for me. But I did scan it and saw some possibilities.
I think the image shows the potential and the pitfalls of large format photography.