Sweetwater Suite

•January 15, 2021 • Leave a Comment

How to start. Stream of consciousness. Leads to a stream I have hiked many times.

Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia, is near my home. There are several state parks in metropolitan Atlanta, and this one is relatively easy to get to. It is interesting from both a nature and historical sense.

The centerpiece of the park are the ruins of New Manchester, and the textile mill destroyed by Sherman’s troops during the Civil War. There were several such mills around Atlanta, destroyed by Federal troops in their attack and siege of the city; Sope Creek Marietta Paper Mills, Ruff’s Mill in Smyrna, among others. I believe the New Manchester Mill was the largest, but I cannot find my source for that, so just take my word for now. It was three stories tall. There was a long and wide water course to power the wheel. It was set on fire July 9, 1864 upon General William T. Sherman’s orders. The other mills were burned about the same time in July. There are trenches and remains of earthworks still visible in my neighborhood near Smyrna, where I grew up.

New Manchester’s citizens, famously, were captured and sent north to concentration (Oh excuse me – “refugee”) camps in Kentucky and Indiana. They were all women and children. The mill workers were charged with treason. They were collected with other Georgia mill workers, about 600, first deposited in Marietta, before being sent north. Many starved to death in the camps and others starved to death when they tried to return home. In fact, very few of the women and children ever returned home to Georgia. The survivors of the camps settled in the north. On the flip side, the Cherokee were also violently removed from their homes on this same land, and sent packing to Oklahoma in the equally infamous Trail of Tears. Bet you didn’t know about those little atrocities, did you? People are so kind.

Today, several peaceful, blazed trails meander about the park, all doing their not so level best to contradict its violent past. A couple of the trails are challenging, with steep inclines and tree roots that will grab you and send you over a cliff if you are not careful. I’ve taken a few falls myself.

I have seen small herds of deer and flocks of wild turkey, giant blue heron, and all kinds of reptiles. Beaver and otter play here, but I have not met them personally. The deer are the most social, gracious and graceful of the beasts, and I suppose they understand they are safe in the park from hunters. It seems they observe me with casual humor, before the thought crosses their minds that maybe I cannot be trusted, and they amble off into deeper woods.

There’s a large lake you can fish if you have a permit, and canoes you can rent. You can hear gunfire occasionally because the East Point, Georgia Police have their shooting range on a private section of the park. I imagine to control the deer, there is some kind of hunting authorized at certain times, but I have never checked into it.

My dad and his brothers played in the creek before it was a state park. I’ve been hiking the trails around the park for decades myself, and brought my own kids here to play. Oh! Here ya go: I am not kidding. This is the truth. My son would stand on the bank next to the lake, and tell jokes to the flocks of coots in the lake. They would respond to each joke with coot quacks in unison, sincerely offering their approval without so much as a cue card from off camera. I still do not, to this day, understand how he could get a flock of water fowl to respond to his kid jokes, but it was hilarious; old coots laughing at my son’s jokes. I wish I had videoed it. No one believes me when I tell them.

Back to photography. Like I said, I’ve been hiking here and photographing here for decades. All that time I was trying to interpret or translate what I saw with black and white photographs. I had a 4×5 view camera. I had all kinds of medium format cameras. I had my Nikon cameras. I tried and tried. I spent hours in the dark room. I was trying to Ansel Adam-ize my Georgia landscape. I remembered something he said about Georgia when he took a cruise down the Intercoastal Waterway back in the mid 1900’s. Not quoting here, but you’ll get it, that the landscape here is hard to express photographically.

Well, dang! You think that I being a disciple of his, would have picked up on that little gem. A true teacher always feeds you more from his crumbs than you get helping yourself to the dinner plate, that is, if you are paying attention. But like most people, I was focused on the buffet of technical details and not upon the soul of the meal. I was successful at black and white, having practiced the craft for years. So, if all you have is a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. It was the wrong tool. My black and white images from this land were almost always unsatisfying. They looked like oatmeal. For example:

Sweetwater Creek Shoals (c)2021 William D. Hunton

Now this photograph of Sweetwater Creek is not a bad photograph at all. In my opinion and at least one other person, it is very good. It has sold. I took the photo with a Mamiya twin lens reflex and a standard lens on 120 roll film of some brand and speed. Someone put it in their bathroom, I’m sure. That is where all my art ends up. It is full of detail, nice cottony water, rocks and trees, but to me it is not a great photo. It is representational but not illuminating. Here’s your landscape, but where’s the story, and the feeling? Maybe it pulls some emotions from you, and maybe not.

Okay. I am aging. My knees are no longer limber. I don’t amble over rocks, roots, and ravines like I used to. I cannot carry 40 pounds of equipment and myself with anything near the ease I used to. I started carrying small cameras into the wild years ago. Nikon is wonderful. I have lenses. But lately I started experimenting with truly tiny format cameras; APS-C and even the miniscule 1-inch sensor cameras. You absolutely cannot mimic an Adams large format landscape using a 1-inch Lumix camera. But you can do other things.

I’ve been learning Lightroom by using the tools. I discovered the brush tool, sliders for the various controls. You learn by doing, by taking the tools to their illogical, unintended consequences and I discovered some things. My personal epiphany occurred when I went to the extreme, far away from my Ansel Adams, F64, Galen Rowell training and biases. I recall the physical discomfort I felt. “This cannot be right”, I said to myself. I won’t give you the details, just the philosophy: At some point in your life you have to grow out of yourself. I don’t care what area of life that is, but it is a fact.

Back to photography. I think I may be onto something. At least I like it. Maybe. It fits Georgia anyway.


I Went for a Walk in 2020

•January 1, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Many people get all sentimental with the passing of the year. This year, 2020, has been more like daily indigestion. Some may be sad to see 2020 go, and certainly there is a lot of sadness to go around this year, but my casual observation is that most people are just happy to see this year be gone. However, one of my friends darkly queried, “What if 2020 is just boot camp?” I do not want to go there.

Looking back before I look forward, and before I consign 2020 to an auxiliary storage device, I have gone through all my folders of images and some things stood out.

Photography to many is a form of expression, something like, “I would like to share with you my personal observations.” Now sharing personal observations may be profitable, except that most of us, if we are honest, are more interested in people liking us and agreeing with us than we ever are about learning about their ideas or about their observations. It takes a great deal of effort to come out of our personal orbits to listen to someone else. I’ve determined it is worth the time.

In this case, I am looking back, and I am wondering if I learned anything worthwhile in the pursuit of this art I’ve assumed. Couple things in 2020. First, I didn’t so much learn this as become more comfortable in it, that after those early years of picking up a camera and trying to photograph like an Adams, or a Bresson, or someone else, that I’ve got my own view of this whacky world and I better show it off, or it’ll be gone. It boils down to this minor epiphany I had: Photography no longer just a representation of the world, or even much of a reflection of it, but what’s my oddball view of it.

Photography is representational, and you definitely want it to be close to real if you are ordering off Amazon. But I’ve learned that photography is much about memories. No one looks at photographs and says, “Oh that’s real.” People will stare at a photograph sometimes for a long time perhaps remembering someone or something. Some things I want to remember with great clarity, while others are more like a dream. Paul Simon’s song/poem Bookends comes to mind. He also wrote Kodachrome, so he understands the power of the photograph to emote. The lyrics to Bookends go:

Time it was

And what a time it was

It was a time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago, it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel,
Bookends, from the album Bookends, 1968,
Columbia Records, Sony Music Entertainment

(By the way, Jamie Windsor has some pretty good Lightroom Kodachrome presets.)

Several of my latest photographs have a decidedly soft look. “Fuzzy wuzzy” I call them. How do you represent a memory? How would a photographer dare try, like in the movie Inception, to plant a memory in the viewer’s mind and have them think, “Yeah, I’ve been there. That’s mine,”? I’m not quite sure myself, but in Lightroom I started playing around with extreme controls; that is, just simply moving the sliders of a control (a control being contrast or clarity, etc.) all the way left or right.

With film, I’m going for grain. Know who does not like film grain at all? Shutterstock! Some things work. Others don’t. Some things sell, others don’t. I don’t much care. I submitted a fair amount of photographs to stock, in 2020. Know what? They hardly mean a thing to me. It’s the photos of friends and family that mean the most. Always have. That’s not a 2020 discovery. Maybe with the virus and lockdowns, just trying to hold onto a real moment has become harder, so my efforts intensified.

Sometimes it was a specific subject that held my attention the entire year. Besides my granddaughter, there are two subjects that I returned to repeatedly in 2020. One is a pear tree in a pasture along the Cheatham Hill trail where I often walk. There used to be house there. The foundation of some building is still there. There are other fruit trees as well, but it’s only deer and raccoons now that enjoy the fruit. I ate one. Not bad. (The pear, not a raccoon!) We had a couple pear trees like it at the house where I grew up as a little kid. Mom would make preserves from the fruit. But I don’t think that is what I am trying to get at.

The other is a stream and a collection of rocks and a tiny gurgling cascade off the same Cheatham Hill trail. During the week it is very quiet. No hikers. The deer show up. I’ll need to be careful soon, because the doe will go into heat and the bucks can be aggressive, even with old human codgers like me. I can pull out the tripod legs and maybe look like a big deer if I hold them over my head.

Why do I keep coming back to those two subjects? Heck if I know.

Other photographs in this odd collection cover the gamut; the pandemic lockdown of things like a playground. Give me a break! Kids need to be outside. We have never in the history of the world treated any virus like we have this one. Politics with a putrid, public safety icing.

I have hundreds of photos I took while going for walks to deal with the lockdowns, plus photos of family, friends, photos experimenting with film and developers again. In my published folder, for 2020, there are 2,055 photographs. The ones here may not even be my best, or your opinion of my best if I allowed you to review them all.

Enough. I’ll just present the photographs of 2020 in summary. These are the ones I selected from the 2,055, that meant something to me at the time.

That’s a wrap, as somebody says.

Have a blessed 2021. We are all hoping for better days ahead.


Stating the Nonobvious

•December 7, 2020 • Leave a Comment

“I look at it this way.”

Photography carries the false reputation of being truthful. “Photographs don’t lie,” we hear. And it is true up to a point. The image captured at a particular time and place, and within the limitations of the camera and lens, then processed, edited and presented, is an objective artifact. It exists. (If you want to argue the point, this blog may not be for you.) There are three elements to every photograph; the image itself, the photographer, and the viewer. In that universe there are a lot of square miles that can be traveled.

We view the world from within looking out the window of context. It is amazing we agree on anything. It is amazing there is such a thing as common experience. The word “empathy” exists for a reason. It’s amazing the idea of objective truth exists at all. However, the existence of an essential fact outside our own contextual observation must be true else how did we come up with the idea at all? Imago Dei. Whether we believe it or not, we all operate as if it is true. We have to, else there could be no exchange among people except by brute force, and the world would be nothing more than an endless procession of ant wars.

It gets all philosophical, and digs to the core of our world views. I didn’t mean to go there. There are plenty of books on the subject, which is further evidence of my opinion.

When a photographer presents a photograph to the public he or she may have an idea about it in mind. Their personal idea may be so personal, so existential as to be totally removed from how other people interact with the image.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. I’m presenting four photographs. I would like you to make up the story behind them. There may be a story. There may only be a story I conjured up after I made the photograph. Was it observation or indigestion? Whatever it is, you are free to make up your own. It’s not so obvious.

As Bob Dylan said “We always did feel the same. We just saw it from a different point of view

Regardless, have fun with it.

I Went for a Walk – Fuzzy Wuzzy Photos

•November 11, 2020 • Leave a Comment

The weight of my photo equipment is inversely proportional to my age. Victims of Common Core New Math may not grasp that concept without gyrating and liberating a lot of whiteboard acreage and markers, because simple division is involved. Oops. Editorial.

What that means is my trail gear has lightened over the past forty years from thirty pounds of 4×5 inch view camera, film holders, light meter, gray card, focusing cloth (that was dang heavy), including a eight pound Bogen 3020 tripod and head, with no pack mule, to what I carry today when I hike; a three pound, Amazon off-brand, aluminum tripod and a 14 ounce, 1-inch sensor wizard like the Canon G7x Mark II or Lumix ZS100. (Let’s see. Convert pounds to ounces. No wait! It’s metric now… Never mind.) Large format on the trail now means my Nikon D7500 APS-C, or possibly my Nikon FM2N when I shoot film.

Climbing over roots and vines, and slippery moss covered rocks in Georgia is much more difficult with a heavy camera bag or pack than with a tiny camera in a leather case, slung under my arm. It has become a matter of safety. If I want to continue to hike well past the most common expiration date for men like me, then I gotta lighten up and tighten up.

Good hiking boots are also key. I love my highly rated, and reasonably priced Merrill Moab boots. Having a strong body core and balance is even more important, but that is another topic. However, let me recommend a top notch chiropractor, Dr. Linkhorn at Sports Chiropractic. (This was unsolicited.) If you just meditate on how to channel a mountain goat you’ll figure it out.

So the question for this previous Ansel Adams wannabe, who really does understand what image quality and landscape and nature photography is about, is how to use a tiny image sensor to express what I “see” as I walk.

To be candid, my attitude toward nature is not Mother Earth, New Age, covered in crystals and such. The evidence is there in plain sight. Nature was designed and created by G_D in Heaven. It was once perfect. Not now, but there is still so much miraculous beauty we can see. How do I offer it back to Him in gratitude and to you whether you believe in G_D or not. How do I take the clay and mold it, so to speak.

The Psalmist in the Bible (Psalm 19) says:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

As a practical matter it is difficult to express glory and grandeur on a 1-inch sensor. Black and White is a much different way of seeing than in color. I can tell you that for certain. Details will get lost in small pixels. Broad areas of tone or color seem to be presented much better than details when you are using a small camera. If you understand your tools and materials you can express yourself within their limitations. There’s freedom in their chains.

Ansel Adams said “…one sees differently with color photography than black-and-white… in short, visualization must be modified by the specific nature of the equipment and materials being used.” 

Amen. Now go forth and conquer. But wait. Exactly how do you do that?

When I go on a walk and I photograph, then everything, and I mean everything is going on in my mind and the camera is hardly involved except to cut a record. I have some basic settings on the camera but they are not even close to what my mind imagines.

Here is one example. The image on the left is the original RAW image taken by the tiny Lumix ZS100. The final image is on the right. It is the one that was in my head at the time, and it exists after having applied Lightroom edits; that is, color channels, clarity, texture, vignette, etc. You can figure it out. Use the slider to compare the two.

Move slider left and right to compare images

I said final image. Final for now. I may come back, and replay, or reperform the RAW image into another form. Again, as Ansel Adams said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.”

My materials are digital. My tools are a simple and small camera. What do I do? In my mind, I visualize the final photograph. I have become more critical, more concerned with broader issues and bold differences in thought, not in yammering on minutiae. So it plays out in the photographs. I reduce details in my photos. I go for saturated color and fuzzy wuzzy impressionistic renderings of broad tones. They seem to work well in tiny format cameras, and I like them.

This might be greeted with disdain by the f64 West Coast crowd of so called photo purists. I don’t care. This is Georgia, y’all. I still practice some of that early training. The essence of Adams’ philosophy is to know your materials and express yourself.

Way too much talk, and not enough photos. Here ya go. Fuzzy Wuzzy Photos from my walk a couple days ago.

Oh yeah. About the snake. I believe they call it a yellow rat snake, or maybe this one is a king snake. It was lying very still on the trail. I spotted it, talked kindly to it, and after a few snakey flicks of its tongue, it slithered off into the woods. It was about three feet long, or a little more. I slithered on up the trail to the ridge.

No, I did not jump when I came across it. The weather was warm and I had hoped to meet one. I do watch for copperheads though. The are mean, well camouflaged, and they will send you to the hospital. I have an acquaintance who managed to step on one last summer.

I saw a flock of wild turkey also, but I was not quick enough with the camera to capture them. A few days ago, I spotted an otter having a wonderful swim in a side channel of the Chattahoochee River. I see deer all the time. Bear and coyote walk the woods too, but they stay away from me.

Tuesday Muse Day

•November 4, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I won’t bore you with my political monologue.

Instead I’ll bore you with technical stuff. Aren’t you relieved you can read this without being interrupted by a political ad. My wife and I are active, but I’m tired of 2020 politics. All I will say is I intentionally photographed on Election Day. We voted earlier in October.

I went for a walk. I ended up in Marietta, as usual. I grabbed a coffee and took a seat outside. The sun was shining. It was cool but comfortable. It’s still great weather in Georgia. I sipped coffee and observed the native population in the ritual of drinking the hot brew.

I’m testing the Lumix ZS100, an older (2016) 1-inch sensor, 20-something megapixel pocket camera. It has a 3-inch screen as well as a viewfinder. Check out the specifications on dpreview.com.

To be candid, I’m not that impressed with it or Canon’s G7x Mark II. The 1-inch sensors are noisy, there is not enough margin for exposure errors especially shadow exposures. Focusing cannot be even infinitesimally off. Any camera movement is amplified even with stabilization. You can crop, but quality drops exponentially.

If you hit the golden trifecta, you can get very good photos. I have an excellent 16×20 portrait of my granddaughter. However, the exceptions prove the rules, and how often are you perfectly in focus, perfectly still, and your exposure is perfectly spot on?

I believe Ansel Adams said the smaller the detail the larger the negative (think sensor) you need to record it. The smaller the sensor the more pronounced slight motion becomes, and the greater impact the pixels have on small details.

You can get good photos if your exposures are mid to high, but not on the shoulder of the sensitometric curve, and you have fairly broad areas of tone, like a simple portrait. That reduces noticeable noise (“grain”).

As a measure of effectiveness as a tool for my style, of all stock photos I submitted in the past year, 50% of my 1-inch sensor photos were rejected. The reasons are almost always technical issues with the camera. I have a much, much higher acceptance rate of photos taken with larger sensors, APS-C and full frame.

It stands to reason that a small camera is at a disadvantage in image quality, but I like small cameras that I can easily hide. Maybe the Micro 4/3’s is the compromise I need between camera size and photo quality.

The 1-inch pocket cameras are good for street photos, family snapshots, casual videos and vlogs, Instagram, and small prints.

So here ya go; street photography. Enjoy.

I processed the Lumix RAW images in Lightroom. I used a preset to bump up contrast, and then went darker. (It was Election Day, and I was in a dark mood.) I took the clarity slider fully left to get a halo softness effect and glow. I sacrificed detail, which is the antithesis of Street Photography, but I’m more concerned about the feel.



•October 29, 2020 • 1 Comment

Have you considered lately how important the color red is to us. I was going through photographs and it caught me by surprise just how many of them had the color red in it. I suppose I was drawn to it. In some it was contrived. In others it was natural. 

Think about how we use the word; red eye, Communists are called “Reds”, red sky in the morning, red hot lover, the red white and blue, and the list goes on. Men wear red to project power. Women wear red to project sexiness. It can mean war, danger, blood, excitement, embarrassment, From emotions to politics the color red connotes warmth and excitement. 

Other primary colors have similar emotional content, but not to the degree the color red does.

These photographs are by me and my youngest daughter Meredith. I marked hers. She and I see things similarly. She actually sees things I wish I had. The first four images are hers. The rest are mine.


I Took a Seat

•October 22, 2020 • Leave a Comment

When the kids were growing up, we spent most of our vacation time going to Wilmington, North Carolina, my wife’s hometown. Wilmington is a great coastal town, up the Intercoastal Waterway from Savanah. It is full of history and it is right on the water. So there was plenty for the kids to do.

Now they are grown, and we’re going through the family cycles of life. We don’t go to Wilmington as much. Now we go to Hilton Head for vacation. It is only four or five hours from Atlanta, if you carefully time your escape from this huge honkin’ town and its unbearable traffic.

In my young years and with a family, we rushed about and when I managed to get a day to photograph, I would drive Carolina Beach Road from Wilmington all the way to Fort Fisher. It was flush with photographic subjects, such as…

The old phrase describing marriage, “… and the two shall become one…” should have appended to it, “But which one?” Well I have become my wife! In one regard, like her, I now just like to relax on the beach, under an umbrella, preferably in late September or early October when it is not so blazing hot.

What happened to photography? Well some of it got more sedate. Now unlike the photo shark I once was, constantly moving, swimming in search of prey, I am now more like an eel, my bottom buried in the sand, at rest but with camera ready, waiting for something to swim by. I have now taken a seat and I watch.

Several of these non-standard vacation photos follow that restful waiting way of thinking. Others are more like street photos. They are all digital, and most taken with a Sony A6000. By the way, I broke my little Canon G7x Mark II, not totally but most irritatingly – one of the strap lugs popped off. I won’t go into embarrassing details. However, I am unhappy with Canon now, and I expect more robustness from them, even their consumer oriented cameras, and especially from the G7x Mark II. In all the years I have used Canon consumer cameras (I use Nikon SLRs professionally), I have never had one of their cameras just physically break a part off. C’mon, man. (Now where did I get that phrase?)

Anyway, here are several of my recent, weird vacation photos.


Bananas Got Feelings, Too, Ya Know!

•September 24, 2020 • Leave a Comment

That’s how it is with me and bananas. I buy them or my wife does, and most of the time they sit on the plate and turn all brown and spotted. We keep them well beyond the CSI decomposition stage. Fruit flies are buzzing around the kitchen before we finally toss them into the trash.

Sometimes my wife will take the semi-brown ones and make banana nut bread, which I like. More rarely, when one is just right, not too ripe and not too green, I’ll capture it and enjoy. Ever watch a monkey open a banana? They open a banana at the bottom, not from the stem. They are smarter than we are about such things. Try it. Be like a monkey.

When I worked in an office I made my rounds routinely at the end of the week. My old friend John B. had kicked back one Friday, feet on his desk. He was leaning back, relaxing in his chair, and enjoying a banana before heading home for the day. Rituals are funny like that. I should say he appeared to be enjoying a banana. I walked up and observed him for probably just a second or two. Without missing a beat, he looked up at me and smiled said, “I hate how they taste. I just like how they feel.” Well I about fell down laughing, and I think he almost choked on it.

So here I am talking about bananas. What do bananas have to do with photography, or in this case with color film? Well, I just like how it feels!

Why the heck shoot color negative film today? Years ago I struggled with the disappointment of color negative film. Those 1-hour photo labs and even professional photo labs never quite got the colors exactly like I pictured them in my mind. I think Steve Koletich, God rest his soul, was the only photo lab owner in metro Atlanta who actually knew how to use a Shirley Card. He made one himself using his wife as the model. She was lovely. He could get colors right. However, I much preferred shooting in black and white, and I could control the outcome. During 25 years of wedding photography I shot only two weddings in black and white, and only one wedding in which I shot both black and white and color film.

When digital came along, I was doing part time work for an Atlanta studio and I was forced to be an early adopter: Louis gave me a call. “Bill,” he said, “We’re switching to digital.” “Okay,” I answered. That was the entire phone call.

The now long gone Wolf Camera on 14th Street had a professional counter, and they told me that I was the 5th person in the city to buy a Nikon D100. I bought the last one they had on the shelf. They were back-ordered, so I moved fast. Wolf’s were the big dog in town, so I believed what they said. That little camera gem set me back two thousand dollars… that is $2000.00 in 2002 money, and I had to do serious calculations to see if I could cost justify the thing!

If you are trying to make money you don’t just go blow a couple grand on a camera for the heck of it. Well, some high end photogs might smack down five or six grand or more now, but us grunts have to watch our pennies. Based on the number of exposures and cost of film vs. number of exposures and cost of digital, I could pay it off through sleight of hand and creative accounting.

I went full blown digital, cold turkey. I had entered the 21st Century, “a veritable age of reason, like they had in France,” and for almost 18 years I never really looked back. I think technology finally caught up with digital urgency maybe ten years ago, and the tools started producing some really stunning images. But in 2002 the guys at my studio could blow you away with 5 megapixels. Things are easier now.

Once I worked out the exposures on the D100, I realized that digital color was definitely much better than film in color fidelity, easier for me to visualize, and a lot easier for me to control. I could actually get what I wanted and get it consistently. Strive for consistency. You should not have to think through every shot. It should be muscle memory and reaction time. If you are fiddling with controls, you have lost it.

So my film cameras went the way of all flesh, except for a couple of sentimental relics. I wish I’d kept my Leica. Ouch. But wait! Film is back. It never really died, except for Kodachrome. And now with digital scanning and Photoshop, I can control the results like I never could with film twenty-something years ago.

Here ya go. Nikon FM2N and Fuji film. Wanna know about the nuts and bolts? Stay tuned. It’s not that color film has a technical advantage over digital. Certainly not now. I just like how it feels.

Dracula: I’m Not Dead Yet! Part 2

•September 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment
Dracula (a.k.a. Svema) Film

I love the Film Photography Project branding! It’s Russian film – I should say Ukrainian, the old Svema FN64. Svema went under years ago. So the resurrection is underway, with limited batches arriving from time to time. It reminds me of one of those invitation only restaurants. You get on a list, and when the chef feels like cooking, you get a call. I think the concept is just cool, funny, and by my test results it’s darn good film.

I used my trusty Nikon FM2N, built in the 1980’s, and a Nikkor 28-105 zoom. It’s not even my sharpest lens, but stopped down and with the camera on a tripod, it cuts a fine line. I know Nikon is not the hot brand right now in the digital world. It’s number 3 behind Canon and Sony brands. Rumors abound that Sony will buy Nikon. I will hate that when it happens. Nikon is legendary. If you shoot stock, I think Nikon is number 2, but Canon users outrun Nikon users 2:1.

The great thing that Nikon did that Canon and the rest did not, is build quality optics in their “consumer” line of lenses. You might not get a fast lens. You might not get weather sealing. But the images are great. If you spend time hiking then weight is a big concern. You need quality lenses that are light weight and that don’t cost as much as a used car if your bag drops a few feet onto rocks and you break a lens.

Of course there are dogs. Do your research before buying a lens, any lens.

I briefly tried Canon years ago, and I discovered there was a big difference in image quality between Canon’s consumer line and their professional line of lenses, the L lenses. You pay an arm and a leg for Canon’s good glass. When I was trying to make a living, or part of a living, from photography, I could get great images from less expensive Nikon lenses. I still can. Some of their G lenses have ED glass and vibration reduction built in, and they compete very well with other brand lenses costing several times more. They may not have f2.8 optics or weight. Check out dpreview.com lens comparisons.

But I digress. I like chocolate. You like strawberry. No big deal.

I developed the Dracula/Svema 64 in Adox Rodinal. See the Digital Truth Massive Development Chart database for developer and times. I diluted Rodinal 1:50, and developed the film 10 minutes at just under 70 degrees Fahrenheit, my normal tap water temperature without heating or cooling. (Keep things simple and repeatable; adjust your development time and agitation rather than trying to precisely regulate water temperature unless your tap water temp is below 65 degrees or above 75 degrees.) I agitated the film the first minute, then 15 seconds each remaining minute of development time. I used Ilford stop bath for one minute. Then I used Ilford Rapid Fix, diluted 1:4, for 3 minutes. I washed the film about 30 minutes.

Rodinal is not exactly a fine grain developer, but with this film the grain is barely perceptible. If you photograph landscape details, a little grain is good, in my opinion. If you photograph things with broad, smooth areas like sky, or clouds or skin, then use a fine grain film and developer. Dracula and Rodinal are pretty good together.

Next came scanning. Scanning is the weakest link in my workflow, and I am figuring things out on my own because I cannot find detail information how to fix various problems. So this is for you, reader.

I use the digital camera method of “scanning” negatives. There are a lot of posts out there how to do it. Here’s one post link, better than most. There are very good reasons to scan negatives with a digital camera. I won’t go into detail regarding pros and cons.

I have run into issues with ghosting; that is, an image fringe that is visible on fine lines. I found it was more a problem with my Nikon D7500 than my D3400 when I use one or the other for negative scanning. The D3400 is much cheaper than the D7500, the sensor is different, and the D7500 is much smarter, and probably it is too smart and not a good tool for copying negatives on a light table with florescent bulbs. I get the flicker warning in the screen. The D7500 is supposed to automatically take care of it, but like I said, when I use it for copying, I see ghosting in the images around sharp details. Is that a florescent light artifact? I don’t know, and I cannot find anyone else who has posted this problem and solution.

One other possible culprit I thought of is back light image reflection, for lack of a single term for the effect. The Dracula film has a very clear base. Other films have a bit more opacity in the base. The reason you have antihalation base to begin with is to prevent in-camera ghost images on your film.

I use the Lomography.com Digitaliza film mask. It works great to keep the negatives flat. The negative in the mask is slightly elevated from the light table. I was using F8 on my 60mm Micro-Nikkor to scan. Sharpest f-stop, right? If I was in the field, I would use a small f-stop for depth of field. So me thinks, what if for some reason, I am picking up some kind of reflection image from the negative onto the light table, back up to the camera. The small f-stop may be causing the reflection to be within the tiny depth of field, but slightly offset.

So, me also thinks to me-self, “Self, I shall open up the lens to around f2.8 to f4, increase my shutter speed of course, and see what happens.” Well the ghosting disappeared. Nice sharp lines. I am still working this out. Probably with more normal panchromatic film with regular antihalation, I won’t have the problem.

You can see, I have detail from highlight to shadow. (Ansel Adams would be proud of me, I think.) So it looks like I got the film ISO, and developer, and development times right on the first try. Surprise.

The film did great for my landscapes at Sweetwater Creek. I also tried some snapshots of my family. I was not too pleased with the people photos. There was something in the way it rendered the skin tones that I did not like. It may be because the near infrared sensitivity of the film treats skin kind of funky, at least to my visual sensitivities. I am not posting those here.

Two more photos and I am outta here. Dracula is great film for landscapes. Ilford Pan F (50 ISO) is probably easier to find and purchase. But if you want to experiment, and you just want a funky film can to add to your collection, give Dracula a call. They also have a higher speed monster film called… you guessed it… Wolfman! Ah-oooo! (Warren Zevon).

Fall is here. Elections are 6 weeks away. Yuck. I don’t want to think about it. The woods and trails help me a lot. Go have some fun.


Dracula: I’m Not Dead Yet

•September 22, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Lately I’ve posted about the return of photographic film, or “analog” as the various Gen kids call it.  My old Nikon FM2N had 5 minutes of fame at my favorite coffee shop, Rev Coffee Roasters in Smyrna, before the pandemic.  The baristas went gaga over it when I brought it in to keep it from roasting in my car last summer.

Almost daily I get an alert to the opening of a new film processing lab.

Of course the big boys have continued to manufacture film – Kodak, Fuji, and Ilford. The old European film manufacturers headed east to the former Soviet bloc countries, and old factories that were shut down have reopened.  Even old Soviet film is coming back – see details below.

However, Nikon is the only camera manufacturer still making a pro level film camera, the Nikon F6. They also still make a film camera for consumers, the Nikon FM10. I have an old FM2N built in the 1980’s. It may outlive me.

The demand for old film cameras has exploded.  Why chase megapixels every 2 – 4 years (or even 10 years) at $1500 to near TWENTY GRAND (without the lens) when you can pick up a Nikon FE for $150, have it overhauled for another $150, and still save money photographing with a machine Nikon says will last 150k shutter cycles.  Scan your negatives when processed or do it yourself with your digital camera, and learn how to use Photoshop or Lightroom to turn them into photographs. Sure the whole process is slower and you can’t post your vacation photos on FB to brag about for a week or two, but you have a smart phone for that.

This is a photo of the film can for one of the new/old Eastern European black and white films, Dracula. Yeah. Guess where it is made.  See filmphotographyproject.com. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svema.   They use recycled film cassettes and cans.

Dracula is ISO 64. Slow, very fine grained. It has a sensitivity into the infrared, so it should render foliage lighter than typical panchromatic film such as Ilford Pan F (ISO 50) and Kodak Tmax 100. It’s not about kids and sports and parties. Put it in your grandpa’s Minolta SRT 101, mount your camera on a tripod and shoot away.

We’ll see how it plays out today. I searched and searched and found out that Dracula is the same film as Svema FN+64, still available at Freestyle Photographic when they have it in stock.

I also had to search high and low to find the development times for the film. In Adox Rodinal diluted 1:50, it’s 11 minutes at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. That is if you shoot it at full ISO 64. Times vary, but that’s a start.

As they used to say when TV news was news, “Film at 11.”