Flowing Water, Snow, and Ice: Long, Lazy Exposures

I was out two mornings ago in 16 degree weather all layered up wearing my spikes looking for flowing water, snow, and ice. Now that we are entering mid-March I’ll be lucky to get another opportunity to photograph these. Right now the temperature is 40 degrees and it is expected to hit near 50 on Wednesday before getting colder again. Ice and snow are good subjects for black and white film not only because ice and snow often lack color, but because they offer such a variety of shapes and textures, which is what black and white is all about. I also find these images to be very quieting

To get the finest grain and sharpest images I’m using Ilford’s Delta 100 and FP4 125 films. For those scenes  with flowing water I use a 10 stop neutral density filter. This enables me to shoot using very small f stops, and shutter speeds ranging from 25 seconds to 21/2 minutes, rendering an ethereal look to the water. I lent a selenium cast to these shots to provide a cooler, more wintry look.

The stream flowed very slowly here so this was a more standard short exposure without a neutral density filter.

You can see how different flowing water looks using a 25 second exposure.

This shot was exposed for 2 1/2 minutes, rendering a soft, smooth look to the stream.

I placed the camera on a tripod for all of these shots. I used both my medium format (120 film), and single-lens reflex (35mm film) cameras. The former’s images are in square format and located at my: on-line gallery.

Scenes Around the Finger Lakes Before the Polar Vortex

The weather around the finger lakes has been pretty mild so far, with temperatures mostly in the thirties and some forties with little precipitation. However, this might change with the anticipated coming of the polar vortex. One struck last year and produced three consecutive nor’easters along the east coast.

I traveled around the finger lakes in December where there were light patches of snow scattered about the countryside. Here are some of my highlight photos.


Resurrecting My Forty-seven Year-old Film Camera

This update corrects the age of my camera, initially reported as fifty-four years old.

We are currently experiencing a mini-boom in the return to analogue. Vinyl records are making a comeback, as are film cameras. Much as I have come to love digital photography, I have thought more about supplementing my work with film (you do recall film). Just as vinyl has a richer sound than digital, film images have their own quality, compared with digital (though the latter can mimic a range of film emulsions). So, why bother with film? Well first, my Yashica TL-electro SLR 35 mm is by definition, a full-frame camera (i.e., it has a 24 x 36 mm frame size), whereas my three digital cameras have smaller APS-C format sensors. All other things being equal, larger sensors/negatives mean sharper pictures.

High dynamic range is another reason for film. This is the range of definition between a scene’s darkest and lightest areas. Film provides a greater range of detail in high contrast light and dark scenes (e.g., Kodak Vision3 provides a 14 stop range) than digital (e.g., Canon 7D provides an 8.7 stop range), thus requiring less bracketing of photos for high contrast scenes. A third reason for using film is that if you are shooting in B&W, unlike digital sensors that record color, no detail is lost as happens with digital’s B&W conversion (unless you buy a Leica M monochrome digital camera, but then that will set you back about $7500 + a few thousand for lenses). See Quora for a technical discussion of detail loss during B&W conversion.

However, there is yet another less technical reason for film photography. Film and its processing costs money and there is no screen on the camera back (what!?) to see how the image turned out. Nonetheless, these “disadvantages” force the photographer to slow down and think more deeply about exposure settings and composition. In fact, this is a major reason for using film cameras in a program, for which I volunteer, that works with junior high, city kids. Over time, they learn to slow their brains down and better focus on getting good compositions, something that we expect will help them in their other academic and life activities.

In preparing for my film venture, I tried my Yashica and everything seemed to work fine, so I bought a roll of film and took some test shots. Unfortunately, the mirror locked up at slower shutter speeds after the first four shots and the mirror would not return until I advanced the film and released the shutter. This meant that only every other frame would contain an image!

So, off the camera went for a complete overhaul ($193, including shipping both ways). Since the camera is only worth about $30 on eBay, you might ask why would I do this? Well, I also have Yashinon 50 mm f/2 & 135 mm f/2.8 prime lenses, including a 2X Soligor tele-converter—all scratch-free with smoothly operating diaphragms and focusing rings; I also have polarizing and skylight filters. It would be unlikely that I could replace all this excellent equipment for much less.

I will be using this camera for making extremely sharp B&W macro and landscape prints. B&W is the film of choice for emphasizing form and texture in those situations where color would be distracting. Under these circumstances B&W yields a more fine art look. Since these compositions will be static, fast shutter speed will not be necessary. This will enable me to use Ilford’s PANF Plus ISO 50, and Delta 100 Professional ISO 100 B&W, fine grain films, further enhancing very sharp images. This camera, therefore, will be sitting on a tripod most of the time.

This brings me to developing and printing. I will have a local, custom lab develop my film according to my preferences (contrast, sharpness, overall quality, etc.) and produce a contact print of the roll. After reviewing and selecting the best negatives from the contact prints, I will use my film magnifier to look for sharpness and any imperfections before deciding what negatives to scan with my Epson V800 scanner. These improved B&W images might require that I transition from a two to a three black ink-jet printer. We will see.

If any of you have shot film and print it digitally, I would love to hear about your experiences and/or suggestions.