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.

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?

How it all started

My love of photography began at a young age. I was always stealing my mom's camera for various purposes, trying to replicate what I saw in the world. When she got a new camera, I got her old one, though I still borrowed her new one quite often (sorry mom). The first time I borrowed her new one was to take pictures of the stars, and I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't get the camera to focus on the stars like I thought it would, so I had to set the camera up in full manual mode. That moment sparked years of research into figuring out exactly how the cameras worked down to each and every setting. 

I kept photographing in the years to follow, not quite knowing what I was doing. Once I enrolled in a film photography course at college, I really started to get enamored with photography as a whole; even with such "old" technology. I learned to slow down, analyze what I was doing, and get the best picture possible. After switching to digital again once I moved back to Rochester, I began to miss the process of shooting film that I had fallen in love with.

I picked up my film camera for the first time in nearly two years, and started shooting again. There is no instant gratification from film like there is with digital, and there is a lot more pressure to get it right in that moment. Though I may not be developing and printing like I used to, film has forced me to slow down, be present in the moment, and really think about my settings, lighting, composition, before I press the shutter button. Film pushes me to know what I'm doing at all times. That challenge I'm faced with during every shot is why I have returned to film. More awareness. More risk. More pressure.