Enjoying *Most* of the Process

There are multiple reasons I started shooting film again, but the biggest reason is that it slows me down and makes me more present in the moment. Shooting film is inherently a slow process, and since I started developing and scanning at home, it has become even slower. I’m learning to set aside an hour or two a week to develop film that has been sitting idly by for sometimes two months before I get to it.

Shooting is obviously my favorite part of the whole experience. Developing only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, hanging to dry takes about two hours. I find the process of developing very therapeutic; I am fully engulfed in the moment, and it feels like my own form of meditation.

After the film has dried, I get to cutting it up into scannable sections to hopefully make it a little more efficient.

BUT, scanning is awful. It’s painfully slow, the software is buggy and reminiscent of early 2000’s Internet Explorer. It’s like someone designed the software back in ‘01 and failed to ever update the interface. Trying to edit within the scanning software feels like walking through the woods on an unknown trail, blindfolded. You take one step off the trail, kick a rock, trip and fall into a ditch. I’m only being slightly dramatic. Pull up the histogram to edit the blacks, mid-tones, and highlights, and what you see happening to your photo doesn’t make any sense compared to what you’re doing to the histogram. It’s incredibly inaccurate and doesn’t loan much confidence in the scanning program.

Epson V750 - Nothing PRO about it.

Epson V750 - Nothing PRO about it.

Another issue I had with scanning was the inability to leave the computer and software to run and go do something else. If you didn't keep clicking on the screen between every photo, it would stop. How incredibly efficient. After digging through a couple pages of Google results, I actually found out there is a solution to this stop-go issue I was having. I had to download another file which was separate from the main program, restart the whole software, and then it would scan continuously like it’s supposed to. I have no clue as to why they chose to keep those things separate instead of just including it in an update. But again, early 2000’s design.

Scanning does go quite a bit faster now, but it’s still the worst part of shooting film. If I have a professional lab do the scanning, I have to pay at least $20 a roll, and that adds up quickly with how much I shoot. Scanning at home is the more economic option, but my $300 scanner doesn’t quite give the quality that the professional lab’s $15,000 scanner is capable of.

If I try to push the scans too much while editing afterwards, they get some gnarly lines going up and down the frame. Everyone loves seeing lines going across the frame and spending 30+ minutes trying to edit them out right?

Unedited scan from an unnamed lab in Arizona. Notice the vertical lines across the entire image.

Unedited scan from an unnamed lab in Arizona. Notice the vertical lines across the entire image.

Any attempt to make the scanner do what it’s designed to do, and it’ll wreak havoc on the scans. I tried to apply the “Digital ICE” function to this picture to have the dust, scratches and other blobs removed from the photo. It didn’t work in the least bit, and honestly I think it made the entire scan worse than if I had kept it off like usual. These scans were a cluster from the beginning, as the lab I went to in Arizona mailed back the negatives on top of one another, which in the film world is a huge no-no. They stuck together, ready to rip off the emulsion from the negatives.

Thing is, just because there’s one awful part to shooting film, doesn’t mean I’ll stop anytime soon. The majority of the process is a blast, scanning just sucks. I leave the negatives under books for a couple days to help flatten them out anyways, and I’ve found myself doing that more often now that I’m scanning at home. Maybe one day I’ll be able to invest in a $15,000 scanner, but that ain’t happening for a long, long time. Until then, I’ll keep dealing with this crap shoot of a system.

I'm a failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Photography, like life, is full of failures. And like life, our growth depends on our reaction to those failures. Failed shots often get thrown to the wayside to make way for the successful shots that were taken. The thing is, if you don’t try and understand why those shots failed, you’ll never figure out how to prevent those failures from happening in the first place.

People tend to dwell on the failures in life, no matter how small. The thing that surprises me with photography, is how easy it is to ignore the failed shots and go straight for the keepers. Files are deleted, negatives thrown away, never to be looked at, or learned from.

This issue seems more common place in 35mm film where there are an abundance of exposures to pick from. When shooting medium format, you only get 15 shots max, and the failures tend to hit a lot harder. About a month and a half ago, I spent two weekends going on lots of trips. In the span of those weekends, I shot 4 rolls of slide film, which are $10-12 each. Of those four rolls, I got 4 or 5 usable shots. It hurt, a lot.

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

I spent the weekends in Lanesboro, the cities, and on the North Shore, and had nothing to show for it. After I was done feeling disappointed of myself, I sat back and asked what went wrong. Once I had my head on straight, I did some research, and found out just how little wiggle room you have with slide film. Half a stop overexposed and you get a shot like the one above. One whole stop and you lose any and all remnants of detail in the snow like the one below.

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Since I had shot so much negative film (Color and B&W) I was going off of the same rules, but to a lesser degree. Come to find out, I should have been doing the exact opposite with the slide film. Negative films have a greater latitude, meaning they have objectively more room for error, and deal very well with overexposure. Slide film on the other hand, typically requires a slight underexposure to prevent any brighter areas from losing detail.

I was doing what I was taught, and in the same vein, I taught myself even more about film. One $45 photography lesson later and, underexpose slide film, meter for the highlights, don’t do that again.

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

I’ve spent a lot of the past two years, learning to take my failures in stride, look at them as objectively as possible, and take away what lessons I can. This mentality has helped me grow as a person, and as a photographer.

So, here’s to screwing up everything, and hopefully learning from it. Just make sure you keep pushing on.

Say cheese!

In the world of portrait photography, getting a genuine smile out of someone is the most sought after moment. Capturing that moment can be incredibly hard, because most of the time, it ends up being forced. Photographers who shoot lifestyle portraits tend to let the scene play out between subjects (families, individuals, etc.), aiming to capture the moments in between direction. On the contrary, fashion photographers that have had years of practice to know how to twist, turn, and tilt their models to look as flattering as possible. Ordinary people typically don’t know how to pose, but they know how to force a smile.

Most of us grew up hearing the phrase “Say cheese!” And most times, all this accomplishes is something between the look of a nut cracker’s painted face, and a child meeting their favorite character at Disney World. It also doesn’t help that most people, if any, don’t actually like having their picture taken. I can’t stand it, so I understand when other people don’t either. When I’m taking pictures, I try and fall in the middle somewhere between lifestyle and fashion photography, certainly leaning towards the more relaxed flow of lifestyle.

Posing is a topic I’ll discuss in length, but on another day. What I’m after, for the most part, is to capture the small details that come with everyone’s own personal smile. My favorite smile is the one that follows a big laugh. Why the laugh occurred in the first place doesn’t matter. Whether it’s from a cracked joke, a failed attempt to look serious, or some other goofy situation developing nearby; all that matters is that for one split second, something made my subject happy enough for their real smile to shine through.

One thing that I’ve found helps tremendously is having my client bringing friends. I’m not talking the entire class of 2019, but two or three close friends that can make the person being photographed smile with just a look. A one on one session is incredibly awkward, so what better to loosen someone up than having their best friends with them?

Something I hope my clientele will come to expect from me is a relaxed, organic session. Having your photo taken doesn’t need to be a stressful, awkward situation. Bring your friends, don’t be afraid to be yourself, and lastly, let’s make this as fun of an experience as possible.

Some Sort of Solace

Photography came into my life at a time of complete and utter turmoil. I was depressed, and lacking the purpose I so desperately craved. My last semester in Mankato, I only took three classes, one of them being black and white film photography. If it weren’t for that class, I’m not sure where I’d be today.

There’s a weird thing about hopelessness, everything feels pointless. The only tangible evidence of being productive came to me the first time I came out of the darkroom with an image I had taken. That slightly wet piece of paper, with a picture I created, brought me a sense of purpose, something I hadn’t felt in months. I became addicted to that feeling. I should have been sleeping, but in between classes and work, I would spend hours in the darkroom. Ten hours, standing in the dark staring at an 8 by 10 piece of paper, was the minimum each week. Occasionally racking up well over 30. Having a hand in creating something from start to finish brought me a kind of joy I wasn’t familiar with. After being numb to life for so long, it was a welcoming feeling.

When I wasn’t developing film and making prints, I was sitting at the coffee shop, binge watching photography classes like people binge watch shows on Netflix. Photography became my only solace in the darkest time of my life. It kept me alive. Nowadays, after being on medication for nearly three years, photography is still one of the few things that makes me feel truly alive, truly happy. If it weren’t for my photography teacher, I would have never gotten the help I so desperately needed, or found the brightest light in my life to this day.

I’ve learned these past few years that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to not do whatever you can to improve yourself and find the happiness that we all deserve. Photography illuminated the dark world I was living in, and helped me to find a way out.

Yesterday I took pictures of a friend’s wedding, for free. My friend Tyler, who was getting paid to photograph, told me, “I can’t believe you’re doing this for no money.” The thing is, if money wasn’t an issue, I’d do it for free all the time. Getting paid to photograph is wonderful, because it’s another for of affirmation for my work. But freezing a moment in history, especially on film, is payment enough sometimes. If you’re in a dark place, why not do whatever you can to chase that light?