What about Black and White photography?    

A fellow stopped by my shop this past week to see what kind of film cameras I was selling. I don’t think he was planning on a purchase as much as he was interested to see if there were still film cameras available and, likely, just wanted to kill some time in a warm shop after wandering along the freezing street.

He began by saying he missed the days when he would load his camera with Black and White film and go out for the day. I laughed and said there is no reason you can’t still do that. “You just have to set your digital camera to black and white only mode. ” Then added, “of course I prefer to convert my images to Black and White in post.”

I remember those days (Not so fondly I may add) when I would always carry two cameras to photograph a wedding or a family. One would be loaded with colour film and the other with black and white.  I placed a bright sticker on one camera so I would remember which had which film. And when I went on vacation I also would carry two cameras, one with black and white and one with slide film.

Always toting two cameras, and always changing lenses! Gosh, what a hassle lugging a big case with two cameras, lenses and bags of film.

I knew that fellow was just being nostalgic so I didn’t say any of that, but I sure thought about it and how much easier I have it now.  He commented how much he liked black and white photographs and said he still has enlargements he made years ago hanging on his walls.

I also share is love for black and white prints. There are eight framed photographs that my wife and I made hanging on my walls. Including one that’s 3 feet by 4 feet. And there is even a B&W framed poster by Alfred Stieglitz on the wall behind the computer.

I agreed with him when he said that he thought that, black and white photographs, “convey a mood that stretches the imagination” and he mentioned that he admired several of the B&W portraits I have hanging in my shop.

That was a perfect time for me to quote Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

In an article in June of 2014 I wrote. “A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand and pass the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. And it stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms.”

I wouldn’t want to be limited to shooting black and white any more than I would want to be limited to only using one lens. Some images just seem stronger in colour. However, if I can again repeat what I also wrote in that 2014 article, “I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twin Lens Reflex Film Camera   

twin-lens-reflex

hay-field

Linda chose a hay field

plymouth

I liked this old Plymouth

underwood-hotel

Town view by Linda

downtown

I thought a photo of our black Honda would be great.

chase-church

It started raining as I photographed the church

kamloops-bighorn-sheep

Linda leaned out the window for this shot

big-horn-sheep-hill

I held the camera out the window upside down for this photo

 

At the close of my last article about the Vancouver Camera Swap Meet I wrote that I had purchased a neat 1960s twin lens reflex Yashica camera for myself. To clarify, the camera is a 120mm format film camera, which gives 2¼x2¼ inch negatives, and does it with twin lenses (or two); a top lens for focusing, and a bottom lens for making the image.

Unlike modern DSLR cameras, photographers don’t hold the camera up to their eye to peer though a tiny hole, and instead view the subject by holding the camera at waist level while focusing on a 2¼” square ground glass.

My wife, Linda, got herself a TLR camera some time ago. Her intention was to force herself to slow down and pay more attention to proper composition, and being limited to only 12-exposure roll film certainly helps one to slow down. So when, a few weeks before the Vancouver Camera Swap meet, she mentioned that she hadn’t had a chance to put a roll of film through her TLR Yashica-Matt since early spring, I decided I might look for the same kind of camera so we could go out together.

I need to say that I am not one of those that thinks film is better than digital. Gosh, not for a minute! I like digital and I really like digital post-production software. For that matter I prefer modern digital technology. However, readers will remember from an earlier article that I wrote, “Happiness is a day with my camera.” To me, that means any camera that is fun to use. And a slow focusing, waist level viewing, twelve-exposure film camera is exactly that, “fun to use”.

Both Linda and I used twin lens cameras in the 1980s. Linda even had a big and heavy Mamiya that she packed on a glacier-climbing trip we once took. When I think of that hefty camera I can’t help but laugh at those modern photographers that complain about how heavy their DSLR cameras are.

We have spent two days since I got my camera going out on photo-excursions. One day driving the back roads near home and one photographing the small nearby town of Chase. However, the day in Chase was cut short because of rain. Then, instead of arriving home and being able to quickly edit image files on a big computer screen, the procedure is to take the film into a completely dark room, unroll the film from the paper backing, put it in a light-tight processing tank, and then spend the better part of the next hour pouring chemicals on, rinsing, and hanging the film up to dry overnight. The next day I scan film and edit in Photoshop.

I don’t know if I can say that the processing part of the journey is all that fun. But using the camera is, and I’ll just have to put up with film developing so Linda and I can play with our vintage film cameras.

So far we have been using some really dated film that expired back in 2002. That old film won’t yield the spectacular results one expects from medium format film. We have two more rolls of that fatigued old film to use as we get used to our cameras, then I’ll get some newer film and we will be able to produce photographs that match the resolution of some of the best modern DSLRs.

But sharp pictures aren’t really why so many photographers like Linda and I are returning to those old medium format cameras. The cameras from the past have now become unusual in this day of instant gratification. And there is something quite rewarding and even fulfilling, and as one photographer remarked “intimate” in the slow process of using a TLR.

Film Cameras     

Film Photography

I was a bit surprised this past week when a couple loudly told me they preferred using film and doubted they would ever bother with digital. They smiled knowingly while pronouncing digital as an in inferior way of doing photography, and that those that used digital cameras couldn’t make good pictures without a computer. Of course, I told them I disagreed, but I also had to say that they should use whatever makes them comfortable. I like black and white film and mentioned that also.

I find that many photographers who use film cameras instead of digital constantly make sure others know their choice, and like to offer a rationale for using film with statements as they did, and saying, “This camera has always taken very good pictures why would I change”. I can’t argue with what seems to me a reasonable statement, however, in my opinion, the difference between digital and film is like driving a 1970’s car and the latest 2015 model car across Canada.

As with film, I really liked those old fuel-guzzling, muscle cars, but the smooth, inexpensive performance, the stylish comfort and the myriad of options available for the operator of the 2015 model car will make the experience safer and more relaxing and than the 1970 version, just like using a digital camera does.

This couple were so emphatic about how great the pictures were that their film cameras produced pictures that I naturally assumed they do their own darkroom work. But no, they take their film into a lab that processes it, then scans it to a computer, then with predetermined settings determined by a computer set up by some technician they get their prints. Hmmm…., not much photographer input there, and a lot more “digital technology” then I cared to mention. Oh well, at least they are taking pictures.

Later I as I contemplated about when I used to shoot film I thought, there was something to be said about the permanence, and how it demanded we get it right the first time. There were no second chances, and if more than 36 exposures of some subject were needed there was that “dead in the water” moment while changing film unless I had a second camera hanging around my neck. Forethought was a required option; and with regard to multiple cameras I can remember packing a bag with one body loaded with black and white film, another with colour film, and a third with slide film.

When referring to the time when we both earned a living as photographers using film, my friend Alex commented, “Oh, the days of click and pray.” As I wrote, there are no second chances. Especially for a photographer that relies on a lab for processing and printing that roll of film.

I will say that shooting film certainly slows one down. Shooting a roll of film every now and then might be a good idea. One can easily pick up an old film camera and put a roll of film in it for less than a $100. Relying on a lab for colour processing might lift the cost much, but I have no doubt with a bit of searching we all could find someone with a home dark room to process a roll of black and white film. I don’t know if that is getting back to basics, as a photographer that I met called shooting film, nevertheless, it would be fun to use one of those heavy, old, shiny, metal cameras again. And who knows, using film might become a regular way to, hmmm….get back to the basics of a time gone by.