Photographic Notebook, part one

June 08, 2014

My photographic process is slow. Sometimes I use digital cameras, but I mostly use film. Best practices dictate that film should be processed as soon as possible after being exposed, but I rarely can do that. Sometimes it takes me several years to catch up, and then more time to edit, scan or print the photos I like.

A few years ago, I got excited about making digital contact sheets on my Epson 4990 flatbed, but I got tired of the tedium involved to then pick out and make low-res prints of the best frames. Plus, the results were nowhere near as good as what I could get from a Nikon Coolscan, so I went back to lightbox editing and carefully choosing which frames I would scan.

I've heard photographers derided as "artistes" for printing their photos with black borders, but when I have full-frame images, I like to see them that way. If an image needs cropping, I'll crop, but most often, I won't. I have an old filed out negative carrier for the Coolscan that allows me to do this. This tree image is full frame because I composed it that way and would not want to crop even a sliver away from it.

I use many black and white films: Kodak T-MAX, Tri-X, Kodak chromegenic, Ilford HP5, HP4, XP2, Fuji Acros. Acros and T-MAX 100 are my favorites. I love the smooth tonal range and fine grain of these films. This image is on T-MAX 100 processed in D-76 1:1. I used an OM2n camera to make it, though I don't remember what lens. Some photographers keep detailed notes on lenses, lens stops, focal lengths, exposure times, etc. I don't. Life passes by the camera too quickly for that.

Majestic trees, sepia


Here is the same image in sepia. I like the warmpth and the extra depth that sepia gives to the shadows.

For this image, there is no right or wrong. One person might prefer the graphic look of a straight black and white rendition, while another might be drawn to sepia's warm tones. One might look better in print, while the other might look better on screen.

It's all about interpretation and personal taste.

Bar Harbor trees, color versionBar Harbor trees, sepia version

Color or black and white?

I did crop this image of trees in Bar Harbor, Maine, because it had too much bald sky and too little foreground. Full frame, it was OK, but nothing exciting.

The image was made on slide film at a high altitude, so it has an overall bluish cast. The weak shades of green were particularly uninviting to me. I've worked with this image many times since I first made it, almost 40 years ago. It never quite worked for me until I tried it in sepia.

Repeated reexamination and experiementation with your images will train and strengthen your photographer's eye. Putting something away for a while - even for years - allows you to return to it with a fresh frame of mind. Best practice is to process your film as soon as possible after exposure, but I've had film sit around for months and even years before I could process it. It never stopped me from getting the image I wanted.

Potomac Overlook Park tree

Photograph a tree

A great photographer I once worked with said, "If you want to be a photographer, take a picture of a tree." It's still excellent advice. At the very least, you'll learn to appreciate them.


Look down

While you're looking at trees, don't forget to look at the ground.

Horse in a barn near Quincy, Illinois

Say hello to a horse

Everyone likes some attention.


Find balance

Balance is everywhere. Take time to and notice it.

Pier, Provincetown

Look for patterns

Pay attention to shadows and work with them. Patterns create drama in this black and white photo.

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