This is something I’ve been dithering about since the dawn of time: the camera, and film in particular, does not see always light the way that we do, or rather the way that our brain interprets it. With normal open air daytime light, this isn’t usually so obvious, but in shaded light, in morning and evening, and of course in mixed and artificial light, it’s a completely different story. The question is, should it be corrected ? There isn’t a “correct” answer to this - it is down to circumstance, taste, intent, perception and even ability. For mixed artificial and natural light it’s a real dilemma, but since I don’t really do that sort of thing, not for me. But it strikes in landscape a lot too. Take this shot:
This is pretty much the scene as-is on film. The shadow areas show a strong blue tint, because the light is mainly coming from reflected a cloudless blue sky. In the background, there’s an area lit by the sun, and that looks “normal”. However, if you were actually there, your brain, knowing what colour the rocks and water are “supposed” to be, would tell you it looks roughly like this:
So, which one to go with ? In the past I’ve tended more to go with the re-balanced version, but that can look pretty artificial if you’re not very careful, especially in the shadows. One photographer I have considerable time for, Bruce Percy, does not appear to correct his transparencies at all - and sometimes to me this seems to go too far.
I’ve just added three XPan shots from the nearby Gole della Breggia (including the one above) to my Recent Work gallery. In this case I’ve decided to leave the colour as it came off film, or rather as the scanner interpreted it, which is more or less the same thing.
But I’m really not sure…
With my forthcoming cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula as the excuse, a few days ago I started posting some scans of slides dragged from the ancient past, when I spent two summer field seasons in Antarctica on British and Norwegian science programmes.
I’ve got something like 1500 slides from those trips, a mix of Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, and Ektachrome (100, I think). About 250 I had selected around 15 years ago, and stored in archival boxes. The rest, some of which I’ve barely glanced at, are in the “rejects” folder. Many are in poor condition, having suffered fungus attacks. A large proportion are badly exposed, badly composed, heavily vignetted, or out of focus. Usually all of these. But some are interesting - to me at least, from a number of points of view. They show how I took photographs when I had no real idea of what phtography was about. Sometimes they are of some merit, but mostly they show that I was trying to tell stories to people back home, to capture atmospheres, moods and colours. There’s no real sense that I had any concept of “landscape photography” as an aim in itself.
From a technical point of view, I’m benefitting from a lot more experience in scanning. I have had attempts at scanning selections in the past, in particular about 6 years ago, when I published a small book, but now I have a fully colour managed Kodachrome calibrated, Silverast HDR workflow, and I can use Silverfast 8 HDR. I started scanning on my Canoscan 9000F flatbed, but eventually switched to the Minolta film scanner. Even though the benefit with some of these slides is minimal, and I lose the 64bit HDRi option, the ability to auto focus, set the focus point, or fully manual focus on the Minolta is a significant benefit for extracting the finest detail.
Initially I was hoping to create a Blurb book, just for me, to take along on the trip, but the amount of work required just to do the initial 48bit HDR scans is huge. It seems I’ve been feeding the scanners since summer, and I’m not even half way through. So at best it will be an iPad portfolio, and starting a few days back, a daily post on Flickr. Maybe life is easier with digital…
I don’t really understand how people do it. People who post one - or more - masterpieces a day on Flickr, on their blogs, on their websites. Photos they took the day before, with a camera they bought last week, and will have discarded next month. The pressure to “keep up” gets so overwhelming that sometimes I want to give up on this whole interaction stuff, or give up on photography altogether. I could just stop taking new photographs now, and spend my remaining years reprocessing, fine tuning, giving some of my archive the attention it might deserve.
I’ve got so many different projects, all unfinished, all seemingly endless. For example, I decided to revisit a large folder of slides from my Antarctic years which I’d discarded as no good. Most them are indeed hopeless, but some, in fact quite a lot, have a degree of documentary or personal interest, and a few are potentially hidden gems. I’m maybe half way through the initial “raw” scans. Since my expectations are not that high anyway, and I’m not looking for anything larger than an A4 print, I decided to scan them to 64bit linear (the other 16 bits are the IR channel) on my Canoscan 9000F, rather than my slower film scanner, but even then it takes ages. And then I have to reprocess to “normal” 48 bit in Silverfast HDR, then finally touch up in Photoshop. Probably quite a lot, considering their state. And then there are the several hundred which I considered “ok” in the past, many of which have never been scanned, or at least not properly. And that’s project 1.
Then there’s a huge backlog of digital images, many taken this year in Italy and France, especially of the lavender fields in the Var, and of flamingoes in the Camargue, which I’ve hardly touched upon, or which need reworking from scratch due to my reversal out that disaster of a piece of software called “Mountain Lion”. And still from this year, their’s a whole bunch of shots from Iceland in February which remain in limbo.
I have 38513 photos in my Aperture catalog, going back to December 2003. Many, many of these deserve further attention. And before 2003 ? Well I’ve got two shelves full of slide binders, and a very full MediaPro catalog.
And then… my ongoing obsession with the XPan is all very well, but the workflow of getting an image of film into my archive is heavy going, and there again there are backlogs. And stuff from the last decade screaming to be rescanned, for example a whole batch from New Zealand over 10 years ago.
And finally, what for ? Almost nobody sees this stuff. I’ve no real idea how may visits this website gets. It’s not zero, but it’s not very high either. Sometimes I get a few comments on Flickr, but for me 10 is a lot. Possibly I don’t do enough networking. Possibly my photos are not interesting, or don’t reach the level now needed to rise above the noise.
And yet every day bloggers like Kirk Tuck or Ming Theing are showing what they did in the last 5 minutes with their new camera, while at the same time regularly delving into their archives, AND writing several feature length blog posts a day.
I mean, what are they ON ?
I was reading a review today of the latest craze in film emulation software, VSCO Film, on Patrick La Roque’s excellent blog. It makes interesting reading, but the telling part is half way down the comments, where the one and only Robert Boyer can’t help but vent his spleen. To lift a quote:
It could be from this being the first tool of it’s type that I have acquired in a long time - they are all WAY WAY OFF in what the real films actually look like I wouldn’t say that they are more OFF than anybody else’s similar toolsets. They are in fact COMPLETELY different from every other film emulation tool on the same target film - actually every film emulator is completely different from each other - not even close - all of them being completely different from the actual film.
Patrick La Roque himself agrees that the named presets look nothing like the film they are supposed to emulate, so, leaving aside the didactic benefits of these particular Aperture presets, one really has to wonder what the point of it all is.
I’m not sure if Patrick uses VSCO a lot - I have the impression he rolls his own, mainly. Certainly his photos have a very strong identity, but they don’t look like “film” to me. And neither should they. The whole movement towards “film looks” seems to be very much weighted towards a particular type of film shots: mainly the ones that back in the days of film people would immediately bin. In the Years BD (Before Digital), strangely enough people did not, as a whole strive to produce washed out, over exposed, bleached, coffee-spill toned out of focus crap. Actually you could, believe it or not, take good photos on film. Yes, even colour slide film. Oh, and I’d say you still can.
Take the shot below. Now, it’s not exactly Galen Rowell. But ignoring the artistic limitations, there is a feel to this that I cannot get from digital. The silvery, luminous quality of the light here is something I can only capture on Ektachrome 100G. And this is a straight scan - as close to the original as Silverfast can get it, and that’s pretty damn close. There’s no software I know of that can “emulate” it. I have tried, as I mentioned a while back.
Film, unlike VCSO, Instagram et al is not just there to recapture your parents reject 1970s holiday snaps. Believe it or not it remains not only a viable alternative to digital, but something quite unique and special, which cannot be obtained by shoving a few sliders in whatever iPhone app is in favour this month. But for how much longer ? Black & white film will live on in its own little niche. Colour print film will carry on so long as there’s the still huge disposable camera market to back it up. Ektachrome was supposed to be saved by Hollywood, but Holly would, wouldn’t she ? And Fuji’s chrome lines seen under serious threat - it looks like Provia will be the last decent slide film standing. I foresee howls of anguish from the beards with the view cameras, but I’d put a reasonable bet (that I’d hope to lose) on there being no positive film of any format on the market in two years time.
VCSO doesn’t even condescend to try to imitate positive emulsions. At least Alien Skin & DXO do make the effort. But anyway, that’s not the point. As RB says, none of them get it right. And none of them can emulate the stunning effect of seeing a well exposed Ektachrome (or even Velvia, if you must) on a light box. Digital has nothing on that. Not even close.
Slide film is on it’s way out. You don’t care. But you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
So there I was thinking that after I run out of the discontinued Ektachrome 100G, I’ll switch back to Velvia 100F. However….
It appears the end is nigh. I strongly dislike “landscape photographer Velvia” - and even that is looking to be on shaky ground. I suppose at the last resort Provia 100F is usable, providing I don’t mind everything that’s supposed to be green looking blue.
So it looks like the long term options are:
Probably it will be 3. I’ve got enough E100G to last until my next major project, I think. After that I guess I might sell the XPan while there’s still a demand for it. There really isn’t much logic any more in shooting slide film. I do realise that. But there’s more to like - and photography - than logic.