Photography Book Review #1

This is the first installment in a series of what I hope will be many photography book reviews. I’m keeping the category broad and will touch on everything from photo books by photographers, to instructional texts, to books that relate to issues surrounding photography. I may even throw in some non-photography books just for kicks! (I said it would be broad!) So, sit down and dig in to some tasty film photography goodness!

First up:

Light and Film: Revised Edition

LaFCover
Light and Film: Revised Edition

Published in 1981 by the folks at Time-Life publishing, this book is the first in the “Library of Photography” series- a series of textbook-like volumes that explore the many aspects of photography. This book is a great intro to the world of shooting film and touches on subjects ranging from the artistic choices photographers make when photographing a scene, to what film physically is and how it works. Using photographs from professional photographers as examples, the writers illustrate how the different legs of the exposure triangle (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) affect the final image in very easy to observe ways. As someone who has been shooting film for a very short period of time, I found these examples extremely helpful. Before reading Light and Film I had tenuous grasp of the exposure triangle, but had a hard time visualizing the effect changing the shutter speed or aperture had on the photo, aside from motion blur of slow shutter speeds and that sweet, sweet bokeh of a wide open aperture we all know and love. Time-Life had some of its staff photographers shoot the same scene, changing only the exposure triangle variables, creating some excellent, easy to identify examples for readers to observe the differences.

 

HowFilmWorks
Making an Image in Silver

Another aspect of this book I really enjoyed was the brief history and evolution of photography from its earliest days, to the modern emulsions and technology of the early 1980s. And, to be clear, not a whole lot has changed in the way of film since this book was written. Sure, there have been some advances in technology like better metering and autofocus, but film itself has changed very, very little since the days of New Wave, acid-washed jeans, and that Flock-of-Seagulls hairdo my uncle Bob rocked in high school. Reading about the journey film has taken from the earliest daguerrotypes, to the modern emulsions that manufacturers are producing today was illuminating and gave me a new appreciation for how easy it is to go out and make an image today. It definitely provided me some motivation to take better care when composing and exposing a scene.

Ali Liston Example
NEIL LEIFER: Victor and Vanquished, Lewiston, Maine, 1965

 

The area I learned the most in from this book was regarding using artificial light to illuminate a photographic scene. Everything from on-camera flash, to complex off-camera remote-trigger rigs and the effects they can provide was absolutely fascinating. Time-Life was the big photographic dog in town when they were publishing this series of books, so they are able to use some very iconic images to help explain lighting and its uses. Examples like the amount of strobes it took to photograph Pope Paul VI in Yankee Stadium to the iconic above-the-ring fisheye shot from Ali’s first-round K.O. of Liston in 1965 absolutely blew me away. I definitely took photos like that for granted and chalked their “iconic-ness” up to access to the event itself, failing to understand the amount of time, preparation and skill it takes to be lucky enough to even attempt to capture an image like either of those.

In conclusion, this a great book for the serious amateur looking to build a great foundation in photographing with film. I will most definitely be diving into the rest of the “Library of Photography” series, and although I checked this book out from the library, I think it’s worth owning and will be on the look out for it in used bookstores and on eBay.

Unitl next time, cheers!

 

 

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Missed Opportunities

I miss a lot of opportunities to take photos. Some I miss because of my schedule, others I miss because I’m lazy, but two nights ago was the first time I missed a photo opportunity because of sheer timing.

I’m driving home around 8:15. Ahead of me, a nasty incoming thunderstorm, the clouds  low and pitch black. Behind me, a brilliant sunset, the sky lit up in an intense golden hue that, coupled with the low clouds, was creating a crazy lighting situation on everything, including the glass and steel of the high rises downtown. My camera was with me in the car, loaded with Ektar and ready to rock. I was passing by the exit for the perfect spot to capture the light off of the buildings. The photography gods had smiled upon me!

I turned off and parked a few blocks away from where I wanted to shoot. I knew there was maybe 10-15 minutes of light left so I hustled to get to my spot. But, unfortunately the light deteriorated and I didn’t get a chance to take any photos.

I was bummed! Even though I hadn’t planned to shoot, the conditions were so perfect that I expected to get these photos, and I think that’s where my problem lies: expectations.

When I set out to do something, I have a good idea of  the end result, and that can definitely be a disadvantage in photography. It means I do my homework and do a thorough job of scouting where I’ll shoot, but I will be the first person to talk myself out of shooting because conditions aren’t 100% perfect. I then get demotivated to do anything photography related. It’s a vicious cycle.

The situation with the awesome lighting conditions was a step in the right direction to correct this perfectionist thought process. An opportunity presented itself and I tried to take advantage of it. It didn’t work out, but it was a good lesson in how quickly light can change and how risk is necessary to capture good photos. It’s also a good thing for me to keep in mind that this isn’t the last Florida thunderstorm at dusk I’ll ever experience, so I’ll have to make the most of the next one!

 

Why I Shoot Digital Too

The first camera I bought was a Canon AE-1 Program. I chose it because I was always fascinated by the AE-1 my dad had, and the black and white photos it captured that hung in our house. Photography was always a thing that interested me, but was never something I thought about delving into until I was in my late 20s.

When I received my AE-1P, I put a few rolls of film through it and immediately fell in love. The look of the photos, the feel of the camera in my hands, the satifying CLACK it makes when I press the shutter! The whole process of taking photos with a film camera is so sensorially fulfilling and addicting to me! I can be having a terrible day, but after I fire off a couple of frames on that clunky Canon, I instantly feel better.

So why, if I love film so much, did I buy a digital camera a few months later? Short answer? I didn’t want to travel with film. My girlfriend and I had planned a 10 day trip to Europe in April of this year, and we were planning on travelling light. I had no experience travelling with film before and all of the articles and how-tos I read on the subject didn’t make it seem all that appealing. I debated about what I wanted to do photographically on this trip and decided digital was the way to go. I started looking at what I wanted in a digital camera and ended up choosing the Sony a6000. It had all of the features I wanted (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lenses, articulating screen, compact size, 24.5 MP sensor) and nothing I didn’t need (4k video, full frame, hefty price tag, etc). In my opinion, it’s the perfect digital camera for me at the moment.

Another unintended benefit of buying a digital camera is how much I’ve learned about photography while using it. I use my Canon FD lenses on it with an adapter (the kit lens is pretty bad for photography), and the muscle memory training of manually focusing and adjust the aperture, while seeing immediate results in the viewfinder is awesome! Seeing each variable and its effect on the photo in real time has helped me to understand exposure a lot better. Shooting digital has also freed me up to be more creative and adventurous with my photography, which has made me a lot more confident when I shoot film. I can experiment on digital as proof of concept, then if I like what I see, I’ll shoot a few frames on film. In-camera black and white JPEG treatment also helps me understand what to look for when shooting black and white film. The black and white JPEG helps me to see the contrast and geometry of a scene better than I can see the same scene in color.

This isn’t post isn’t “digital vs. analog” or anything like that. I love shooting photos on both formats and I derive different things from both formats. I like digital for the immediacy of results and because it shortens my learning curve in certain areas of photography. I like film because of the look and feel of the product as well as the sensation shooting brings me.

What the digital vs. analog debate boils down to is a debate over formats, which is silly. Cameras are tools to accomplish a task. I’m not going to take an 8×10 camera to shoot candid photos at a friend’s birthday party, the same way I’m not going to shoot photos I intend to blow up to large prints on a smaller format like 35 or 110. Digital has taught me much about photography, and film reminds me of the importance of slowing down and enjoying the moment.

In short, digital helps me learn and film helps me grow, so there will always room for both formats in my camera bag!