Thursday, December 10, 2009

The first roll.

As you can imagine, I don’t get to shoot a great deal of film when I am at sea working. While I carried a film camera during the first few years of my career, the outfit was cumbersome due to the fact that I had to carry an always limited amount of film with me. In addition, I had to wait until I returned home in order to get it processed. This added up to little motivation to shoot film on my trips.

Home is a different story. Most of my cameras are film cameras. In fact, there are always a few that do not see a roll of film cycled through them during my four-month vacations. I just don’t shoot that much film. Much of it is due to the cost I am afraid. I have a weird sense of “cheapness” where I will spend thousands of dollars on a lens but will baulk at buying a few hundred dollars of film and processing. This is not just in photography, but in other things as well, but beyond the scope of this.

In any case, I take a camera out and load it with film and then see what inspires me to shoot. The cheapness I have with film has one advantage however, I am always thinking when I depress the shutter of a film camera. I know that I only have twenty four or thirty six frames to use, and that slows me down. With digital, I have hundreds on a card, and after a five-minute download, have hundreds more to go, with little immediate cost. Digital is great for sports, but you also get sloppy.

When I returned home this time, my first roll of film was a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film into my Leica R8. The film is a fine-grain, highly saturated slide film that is designed for nature and wildlife. The slow speed means remarkably fine grain and the colors really “pop” when they are projected on a screen. I like this film with the Leica because the Leica lenses really draw well with this film. The color rendition and sharpness of the lenses really allows the film emulsion to shine. The only two real drawbacks are that the film does not do well with skin tones and it is quite slow.

I shot this roll in three outings. The first outing was a walk in the new river-walk park on the Wilkes-Barre side of the Susquehanna River. I brought only one prime lens with me, as is often the case with my Leica’s, as I only have primes, and I rarely carry more than one. This day I decided on a short telephoto lens in the form of a 90mm Summicron-R. To those new or ignorant to Leica terminology, “Summicron” refers to a f/2 lens. This one is the last generation spherical lenses, and is quite sharp and has lovely color rendition.

Being that it was late fall, there was little color to take advantage of, so I tuned my eye to form and shapes rather than the color of things. Perhaps I could have used B&W film instead, but I did not. The Market Street Bridge and the new concrete walkways in the park lent themselves most to this outing. My favorite image is one of the statue of Jesus with outstretched hands at King’s college across the street appears to stand on a a slightly blurred concrete wall with grass in the foreground. The foreshortening effect from the telephoto lens helped with this to make the statue appear somewhat on the same scale and plane as the wall, despite being at least a quarter of a mile away.

The second outing was with my widest Leica, a 21mm f4 Super Angulon. This time I went to the Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre. They had set up their Christmas tree and a local Church had set up a crèche as well. I got up close and low to the crèche and while I liked the composition, the image fell a bit flat with some lost highlight details on the frame. I also shot a rather banal image of the tree, and since it is blocked in by a chain-linked fence, there is nothing terribly artistic about it. The favorite image of mine from this outing was an image similar to the crèche, only with the statue of Christopher Columbus. There were wreaths and flags around the statue, and the image really worked. The vignette inherent with this lens added some darkening to the sky which emphasized the statue even more and was most pleasant to me. After a bit of scanning and post processing, I even had an image printed from this frame.

The final outing with this roll of film was to Kirby Park in Kingston, PA, which is right across the Market Street Bridge from Wilkes-Barre. There is a small pond in the middle of the park and I wanted to see if there were any wild fowl there that might be so kind as to allow me to photograph them. As you can imagine, birds, even the large ones like geese and ducks, require long lenses to photograph effectively, as they usually don’t allow you to approach them without great stealth and effort. For this outing, I had a long telephoto lens, a 560mm f4 lens. This is a large and heavy setup requiring my heavy tripod and gimbaled head. I went a bit “rogue” for this shoot as far as wildlife shooting is concerned by leaving the motor drive at home. The R8 had a nice drive, but the manual wind is much quieter and I was not expecting to be shooting action sequences in anycase.

This was my first time using this lens and it lived up to expectations. While it is manual focus, the geese I shot were slow moving enough for me to get exacting focusing and careful compositions. I gleefully shot off the remaining half of the roll before breaking down the rig and carting it back to my car. My favorite of the bunch is an image of a lone Canadian goose as he wearily eyes my activities from my perch. The sun had come out at just the correct time and was behind me, which offered wonderful lighting to capture them as it was late afternoon during the “golden hour.”

Once the roll was finished, I packed it up into one of my pre-paid mailers and sent it off to Los Angles to the lab I use for my E-6 processing. This is an at least ten-day round trip to send it to the West Coast and then back again, so as usual, the use of slide film is not only expensive, but an exercise in patience. Still, when that box arrives in the mail, it is a good feeling to place the slides on the lightbox and then to project them onto the screen for the best photographic viewing. Slide film is what I really love about shooting film, and is well worth the wait.

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