South St. Vrain River, Allenspark, Colorado

Slow Shutter Speeds

Because I just put up a DONATE button I figured I should post new content to go along with it. Folks, I wish I could support myself wandering around making photographs with the F6 then blogging about it all. But, for now the F6 Project is just for fun. So here’s something I put together recently. This is an exact duplicate of what was posted on Blue Hour Journal a couple weeks ago.

Why do we need to say something – anything – about our images? A few weeks ago I was in Chicago looking at a display of student work at Moody Bible Institute. There were two different exhibitions: one with very nice photographs, printed on canvas and beautifully displayed. The other area featured a series of page layouts, combining words and text, printed, laminated to foam core and nicely presented, complete with registration marks from the printed page.

I found myself drawn to these images more – even without reading the text.

frame 16- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 50 sec. @f16

There’s something about the combination of images and text that resonates with my aesthetic – though it’s difficult to explain what, precisely. Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me desiring some presentation of context. While the photographer in me longs to have images stand on their own, open to interpretation by whomever, to whatever end.

frame 17- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 50 sec. @f16

I’ve found it extremely liberating, returning to wet printing in the darkroom; being freed in a sense.

frame 35- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

Letting go of the should’s; the trap and rigidity of expectation and simply experimenting, free to fail, free to succeed. Free to create.

frame 33- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

Photography is an interesting art form. It relies on science to work. Light, measurement, interpreting facts and figures to produce an aesthetic. But it’s so easy to disappear down the rabbit hole of numbers and figures and that same science, becoming trapped in propriety to the extent one loses sight of the aesthetic leading them to stop and appreciate the scene in the first place. We get so wrapped up in numbers we can lose sight of the art.

frame 31- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

To be truly free to create again is to have learned the rules, thanked them, put them aside, and begin asking what if.

frame 34- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16

I’ve been doing a lot of reading again. Edward Weston’s Day Book no.1, Mexico. In it he’s having a discussion with another photographer about what the camera “should” be used for:

E.W. “Photography has certain inherent qualities which are only possible with photography – one being the delineation of detail – so why not take advantage of this attribute? Why limit yourself to what your eyes see when you have such an opportunity to extend your vision?”

Johan: “If in a certain mood, why should I not interpret that state through my picture and not merely photograph what’s before me?”

E.W.: “it would prevent you from telling the truth about the life towards which your lens is pointing – if you wish to interpret why not use a medium better suited to interpretation or subjective expression – or let someone else do it. Photography is an objective means to an end – and as such is unequaled – it comes finally to the question: for what purpose should (my emphasis) the camera be used?”

frame 22 – Middle Saint Vrain Creek, Allenspark, Colorado (2019). 3 sec. @f32, 180mm AIS, no filtration

I do see his point, regarding the camera’s unique ability to precisely record detail. And facts. But what a pompous ass; suggesting a camera should only be used for one thing. It’s absurd. From this moment forward I’m removing the words “should” and “shouldn’t” from my active vocabulary.

I do realize I’m questioning Edward Weston. And I do realize the audacity of such an act.

The Shop

How honest do I want to be? How much of myself am I willing to reveal? I’m not a minimalist. At least not in the photographic sense of the word. While I occasionally admire the photo of a mostly empty hillside with subtle tones and a single, isolated tree positioned in the perfect rule of thirds spot – that’s not me. I’m more drawn photographically to a little bit of chaos. Attempting to identify structure within that chaos seems to be a challenge I’m constantly undertaking, and it’s besting me.

frame 08 – Grinders, the shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 5″ sec. @ ƒ11

The first time I saw The Shop I paused, not quite sure how to visually digest what was before me. As chaotic as it first appeared – there was part of me that smiled – wanting to dive in and swim around; a new challenge. I loved it. The Shop satisfied something deep inside; woke it up, gave it a cup of coffee and said go for it.

frame 31 – Maps, The Shop, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/1.3 sec. @ ƒ11

Like other series, The Shop has been in progress for a while. It began as a vague idea; I knew there was something visually interesting about it, but wasn’t quite sure where it would take me. So like any curious photographer following their nose, a year or so after I started… well… here I am.

frame 27-The Shop Series, a Master Mechanics ultimate Man Cave. Ilford PanF+, 1.6″sec. @ ƒ11

The Shop was born by my wife’s late grandfather who was a Master Mechanic during his career. It began as a collection of tools, equipment and hodgepodge of spare parts accumulated over the years at his mountain fishing cabin. After retirement he and his wife moved to the cabin full time, turning it into a year-round mountain home.

frame 24- The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 6″sec. @ ƒ16
frame 03 – Copper and Brass Connectors Ilford PanF+, 3″sec. @ ƒ11

The shop grew. A pot belly stove was added for long hours spent “putzing” during winter months. Woodsmoke was added to the cacophony of old, oily smells as the shop evolved into a complete Master Mechanic’s man cave, the stuff of which legends are made of.

frame 12- SHARP - The Shop, Colorado
frame 12- SHARP – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/5 sec. @ ƒ11

After he passed away, The Shop was relocated to another out building to allow expansion. Piece by piece it was carried across the property and reassembled in its new location where it would live out its days; a museum of sorts, but the epitome of function, containing every tool and part to maintain the property.

frame 31- The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+ 3″sec. @ ƒ16

It’s cold, especially when you first enter, with a cement floor running the length. It smells like – everything old. There’s a dead mouse in the white, 5-gallon bucket near the door. Post cards of bikini-clad women in 70’s hairstyles are tactfully pinned up out of eye line of visitors. Hand written notes with phone numbers, long expired dates and vendors names frozen in time are tacked to the wall.

Old coffee cans with their contents written on tape line the shelves in the shop. Ilford Delta 100 1/1.6 sec @ ƒ11

Coffee cans from years gone by heavily packed, their contents hand-written in marker on tape, crowd shelves above to the right. Beams and timbers strapped together are laid the length of the floor with oily chain saws hanging off keeper straps from hooks above. Old filing cabinet drawers are repurposed to hold whatever will fit.

frame 34 – Skulls, The Shop, Lyons, Colorado (2019) Ilford Delta 100 1/1.6 sec @ ƒ11

Skulls of mostly cattle lie about. Shovels, pick axes, rakes, a post hole digger, weed wacker, sledge hammer, hoes, rakes and a crow bar lean against bare stud and peg board walls with tool after tool hooked into place. Old jackets and hip waders stand ready by the door.

frame 04 - Fly swatters, dust pans, flashlights, rulers, oil cans, tapes of different flavors... there's something tucked into every square inch of the shop.
frame 04 – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/1.3 sec. @ ƒ16

An old, sturdy work bench runs nearly the whole length of the shop with ancient grinders and vices bolted to the surface. Steel shelves stored with box upon labeled box of spare parts for the cabin’s day to day operation ready to spring into service when needed – whether today or 50 years from now. It’ll still be there, still be usable.

frame 37-The Shop Series; Hammer and Ax handles in duct tape.
frame 37-The Shop Series; Hammer and Ax handles in duct tape. Ilford PanF+, 4″ sec. @ ƒ16

Especially with photography, it’s important to feel something when you see a photograph. Recently on instagram I had someone pay me the highest compliment I could imagine. “There is a touch of sadness in your BNW photos I can not put into words.” That a photograph evokes any feeling at all is a win. Not being able to put it into words is exactly why a photograph needs to be made.

frame 26- Remington Trap Loads, The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 3″ sec. @ ƒ16

Much of my time at the cabin is spent in the shop for practical reasons, trying to understand and digest the mind of a Master Mechanic – of which I am certainly not. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person but am told we’d have been fast friends. It’s a fascinating place to me because of its beautiful chaos. I suppose in a way these photographs are me searching for a way to feel connected to the man behind the shop. How I’d have loved to shake his hand.


Technical Notes for the Photographer

Given the nature of ‘The Shop,’ it was a given the photographs had to be etched in black and white film. The fine grain and overall tones of Ilford PanF and Delta 100 were perfect for this project. I wanted lots of detail and good contrast. Ilford DDX developer was used to develop each roll with care in my home dark room.

frame 01 - The Shop, Colorado
frame 01 – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 2.5″ sec. @ ƒ16

In prior attempts I tried color film and found it didn’t hold up as well. Trying a blend of flash and natural environment lighting (incandescent bulbs, fluorescent overhead lighting, etc.) the color was too  inconsistent. Even using different films. Though the objects shared the same space – in the photographs they didn’t appear to belong together. Removing color from the equation eliminated the disconnect.

Another element tying the series together is the F6, which was used for every shot. While nothing unique about the F6 allowed these photographs to be made (they could have been made with any camera mounted to a tripod with a competent meter, the ability to attach a cable release and Mirror Up capability) there’s something pure about the series because they were all made with the same camera.

Nice Leather Scrapes – The Shop, Colorado Ilford PanF+2.5″ sec. @ ƒ11

There are certain things about using the F6 for this series that made it the logical choice. When I’m ‘really trying’ to get the most out of 35mm film the F6 is the best choice. Mirror-Up is something I talk about a lot. If you’re not using it, you’re not getting the sharpest, highest resolution image. The F6 has easy M-Up shooting, accessible via the top Film Advance Mode Selector. The second thing is Custom Setting B:5-Extended Shutter Speeds. Using the camera’s default setting (off) the shutter speed in Manual exposure mode can be selected as slow as 30 seconds. Turning Extended Shutter Speeds ‘On’ allows exposures to be extended down to 30 minutes. This is handy when working with slow ISO films and small apertures. Another handy item is the Nikon MC-30, the cable release connecting to the F6’s front 10-pin port.

And lastly, I have my F6 fitted with a Kirk L-bracket allowing easy tripod mounting in either horizontal or vertical orientation. The older F’s don’t have them and to be perfectly honest, I don’t relish the idea of scratching up the bottoms of these beautiful, old cameras by screwing and unscrewing a Arca-Swiss plate to mount it on a tripod. The Arca-Swiss L-bracket allows easy on-off tripod. Nothing to fiddle with, nothing to forget at home – simple.

Lenses varied depending on the shot. I favored my older AI-S lenses when appropriate. Tight quarters called for wide-normals, with some 85mm thrown in for the head-on, distortionless shots where straight lines and absolutely no barrel distortion was desired. Maneuvering the camera into position was difficult at times. My tripod base is fairly large and requires room to spread out for solid stance on the cluttered floor. A center column and ball head provided complete composition maneuverability once in position.

A wet print portfolio will be available sometime in 2019. Thanks for reading and keep running film through your camera – no matter what make or model it is.

The Printmaker, Reprise

Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

A brief follow up on the previous post.

As a recap, while photographing Scott Lenaway, Artist I figured Delta 100 would be my optimum film so began with it. I burned through 2 rolls pretty confidently, knowing essentially what I’d get because of the previews on the digital camera.

Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
(frame 01) Scott R. Lenaway, Artist – Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Moving to ISO400 Delta, I figured these images might be better, relying less on flash and more on ambient light.

After those 4 rolls were shot there were more photos to make, so I reluctantly reached into the bag and pulled out a roll of Ilford PanF ISO50 film, honestly not expecting much. My digital camera can’t mater at ISO50 so essentially I left the settings the same as for ISO100 (1/100 @ƒ2.8) film assuming the flash would kick up a notch using TTL. I’d never shot flash with PanF before and had no idea what would happen. But I knew I already had a lot of good frames so wasn’t risking anything.

Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
(frame 06) Scott R. Lenaway, Artist – Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

When it came time to develop I did so in the same order according to my expectations: Delta100 the best, Delta400 second best and PanF, well… whatever I got was icing on the cake. All developed in Ilford DDX chemistry at 1:4 at 68°. I developed the last roll – PanF – yesterday and was shocked.

It was far and away the best of the bunch. I’m still trying to understand why – but it is, and has me re-thinking my approach to an upcoming shoot.

(frame 22)-Scott R. Lenaway, Artist - Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
(frame 22)-Scott R. Lenaway, Artist – Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

After years of searching to acquire one of each single-digit F-series Nikon camera has concluded, I’ve been focusing again on 35mm with the F6. The ‘total package’ the F6 offers makes it uniquely capable of super high-resolution, high-quality images using the right film, right lens, good light and of course the (creative lighting) system behind it. On top of those things its relatively small footprint allow ease of set up on location and make it easy to work with.

The F6 is creatively satisfying because it’s uniquely positioned to make unique film photographs. Now with this discovery of Ilford PanF50 and flash, I’m excited to see how far it can be pushed. Not just for bright light and landscape photography, Ilford PanF Plus ISO50 film is capable of much more.

The Printmaker

Recently I had the privilege of photographing my friend and artist Scott Lenaway on location. Scott, a talented printmaker here in Fort Collins, wanted portraits in his studio. Photographing artists doing their thing – is really my thing.

frame 05-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018). Creatively, black and white film fit the assignment perfectly.

For those who don’t know – printmaking can be messy business (Scott always has ink on his hands when I see him). Given the nature and method of printmaking I envisioned deep, rich blacks and long tones –  making black and white film the perfect creative direction.

Print Maker at work-Artist Scott Lenaway, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 08-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Because his studio is rather dark, bringing any light needed was required. Though the studio isn’t small – it is a little crowded with breakable objects – that are also messy and expensive if they smash on the floor. This made setting up the big Speedotron Black Lines impossible. Not enough space and too many obstacles to block the light path.

Thankfully, the Nikon designers took it upon themselves to include Creative Lighting System (CLS) circuitry in the F6, making off-camera flash a breeze. For those who don’t know – CLS is one of the most unique and powerful attributes of the F6 – but perhaps the least understood. The F6 is Nikon’s only film camera that includes this circuitry making it capable of creating unique images. This meant CLS and my suite of Nikon SB speed lights were the perfect solution for this assignment.

frame 02-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
The brain behind CLS, the F6 is the only Nikon film camera with the circuitry to communicate with the SU-800.
The brain behind CLS, the F6 is the only Nikon film camera with the circuitry to communicate with the SU-800.

After conferring about goals for the session, the idea was to have Scott go through the process of making a real print and photographing him doing so along the way. There were three main stations used in his print making process, each station requiring a different lighting setup.

Using the digital camera and the SU-800 commander head as a ‘polaroid,’ I worked out light levels for each strobe, then transfered the SU-800, lens and desired settings to the F6 and confidently shot away.

When it came time for the next station we’d stop – move the lights – run a new set of digital proofs, then repeat the process. By the end of the 2+ hours we had 5 rolls and a few digitals to choose from.

frame 17-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
Hanging the first two rolls to dry after developing in Ilford DDX.
Hanging the first two rolls to dry after developing in Ilford DDX.

Back in the darkroom I processed each film in Ilford DDX, two rolls at a time, then reviewed each frame on the computer screen as it came up from the scanner. The idea was to put together a contact sheet of selects for him to choose from, showing only the best frames. Acquiring focus was a challenge in the dark studio, as was the fact he was moving around quite a bit – but the F6 did a great job tracking and the percentage of usable shots was high.

The overall look and feel of the photographs is exactly what I had in mind when the decision was made to go with Ilford Delta 100 film (my favorite black and white film).

Ultimately we’ll print a few final images as wet silver prints on fiber paper, completing the analog process from beginning to end.

Having shot mostly film again for the past 8 years, my catalog of digitally-originated frames drops a little each year. But- using the digital camera as a tool to figure out lighting on the fly has immense value.

The Printmaker, Artist Scott Lenaway in his studio, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 26-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Something worth mentioning: the idea that a photograph is created on film doesn’t preclude the necessity of editing. The image below is a good example. We all like to ‘get it right in camera.’ For the majority of shots I focused on the subject’s head, eyes and face. There were a few shots focused on hands and what they were holding – as in the shot below. Because of the very shallow depth of field to reduce the distracting background, there wasn’t much room in the focal plane. I wanted his hands to be the point of the shot, but to stop and relight everything to reduce brightness on his face would have been a waste of time and interrupted the flow of the shoot.

Instead I opted for a good base exposure, knowing I’d re-work values during print. So shooting film in a hybrid workflow is a great blend of bringing the best attributes of both film and digital together to create something unique.

frame 06-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 15-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Shooting digitally does provide a bit of a safety net because you know for certain what you have when you’re done. Admittedly this is comforting. Working without that feedback again takes a little getting used to. I’ll admit a smile crossed my face upon seeing dripping wet rolls of film unwind from the reels, dense and healthy with tone. Never a doubt.

The Print Maker-Artist Scott Lenaway, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 04-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Do something different. Shoot film using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System and challenge yourself to make unique, creative photographs. Having a tool like the F6 that is able to respond to virtually any photographic situation is a true blessing.

Clouds, Mountains, Snow and Ilford PanF50 Plus

frame 05: Clouds, Cornice and Snowfield, Old Fall River Road, RMNP, Colorado. Pan F50+, Nikkor 50mm f1.4D. 1/200 @ f8; Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX by the book: 1:4 @ 68°.
Lava Cliffs Triptych, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photographed with the venerable Nikkor 180mm ƒ2.8 AI-S prime lens.

Not long ago I decided to spend some focused time shooting Ilford’s PanF 50 Plus. In an effort to minimize variables the decision was made to focus on 35mm using the trusted and favored F6. The F6’s venerable meter virtually eliminates exposure error, and I really wanted to dial in +/-EV, development time, agitation, grain, scanning, wet-printing, etc. The decision was also made to use exclusively Ilford’s DDX developer. What follows are the results. The executive summary: I have ordered lots more Ilford PanF50 Plus film for an upcoming trip to Santa Fe where I’ll look forward to continuing this ‘experiment,’ though I now feel quite comfortable that PanF is all I could hope for in a 35mm film.

frame 22: Laval Cliffs, RMNP, Colorado. 180mm f2.8 Ai-S, PanF50+, DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.

I’m not really a numbers guy. I mean – I am – but don’t perseverate over them. I like to use numbers as a starting point; get things figured out, then use that knowledge to extrapolate as I shoot. I’m not one of these people that tweaks and tracks every variable just to reconstruct later. Ilford made recommendations on their film based on good authority. I’m not one to second guess. My interest in numbers is really searching for a baseline – then (rather unscientifically) adjusting exposure based on the scene. If in doubt, bracket (but I hate wasting film). If I think it’s going to be an especially worthwhile shot I’ll bracket – but usually trust in the flexibility of film and the F6’s infallible meter.

Mammatus Cumulus Clouds, Fort Collins, Colorado. June 18, 2018. Ilford PanF50 shot at ISO50, 50mm ƒ1.4D @ƒ5.6, 1/125 sec. Nikkor Y48 Yellow Filter. Development: DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.
Mammatus Cumulus Clouds, Fort Collins, Colorado. June 18, 2018. Ilford PanF50 shot at ISO50, 50mm ƒ1.4D @ƒ5.6, 1/125 sec. Nikkor Y48 Yellow Filter. Development: DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Something I have been doing a lot lately is working with filters. Yellow, orange and a couple different reds. Being a Nikkor devotee (and making no apologies for it) – I have a nice assortment of vintage 52mm Nikkor filters I use use regularly – especially when shooting my old pre Ai, Ai and Ai-S lenses. More and more I’m prone to favoring these smaller, lighter primes over hauling around the big-barreled, gold-ringed f2.8 zooms with 77mm filter threads I was infatuated with with in my ‘earlier years.’ I also have a nice set of 58mm B+W F-Pro’s for the Mamiya 645 rig I’ll use with a step-up ring if needed. Usually one of the 52mm Nikkor filters does the trick though.

Where I was experiencing some interesting results was using the deep red B+W F-Pro filter. It’s super dark – darker than the Nikkor R60 Red. Here’s what Schneider says about it on their site: “Compared to the lighter 090 red filter, this one even darkens the reds near the yellow tones in the spectrum, as its transparency only begins in the orange-red region. It produces dramatic effects and extreme tonal separation for graphic effects. That accounts for the large filter factor of appr. 8.” It’s so dark, focusing is sometimes made difficult. And when you shoot a ISO50 film you’re really needing a tripod to get an aperture that’ll provide adequate Depth Of Field. But the real ‘problem’ (if you want to call it that) is, it darkens any greenish vegetation to the near black range. This isn’t something I’m typically after. Enter the Nikkor Y48 Yellow. Especially when working off the hand, I find it just right to deepen tones in the sky and increase separation, but leave other elements largely as is. A bump to deepen midtones, minimal light loss and a relatively unchanged TTL experience.

Lava Cliffs, no.5, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Lava Cliffs, no.5, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 180mm f2.8Ai-S, Ilford Pan F50, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes.

Not long ago I acquired the lovely, ancient 180mm f2,8 AI-s. I have long been a fan of shooting landscapes with telephoto lenses – but upon close inspection, anything shot with the 70-200VR has been somewhat disappointing. Not to mention its size and weight being a deterrent. The 180 f2.8 solves all those issues and then some. Mounted on the F6, this ancient lens benefits from the F6’s ability to dial in Non-CPU Lenses. Doing so while working with the lens allows the correct shooting information to be recorded in the shooting data for that frame. The 180 has no tripod socket because it doesn’t need one. The L-bracket on the camera is more than sufficient to hold its relatively light weight. The one negative is I’m not about to invest in a set of 72mm filters for it and have to carry them around too. So when I’m shooting the 180 I’m going so with the rectangular front-slide-in filters.

Unnamed trail above treeline, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Unnamed trail above treeline, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes
Snow, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Snow, Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes
Alpine Ridge Trail, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Alpine Ridge Trail, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 50mm f1.4D, Ilford Pan F50, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, DDX 1:4 by the book; 68° for 8 minutes

and a few PanF50 Plus shots from the past to show a little more diversity:

San Luis, Colorado
San Luis, Colorado. Nikon F2, Nikkor 50mm 1.2 Ai-S. DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.
Bisti Wings, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. Ilford Pan F50, 70-200VRI @200mm. DDX by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.
Bisti Wings, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. Ilford Pan F50, 28-70 f2.8ED @70mm, f7.1@1/60 sec. (-0.2EV) DDX 1:4 by the book: 68° for 8 minutes.
Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah. 28-70 f2.8ED @42mm, 1/1.6 sec @ f16 (+1.7EV). DDX by the book: 1:4, 68° for 8 minutes.
Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah. 28-70 f2.8ED @42mm, 1/1.6 sec @ f16 (+1.7EV). DDX by the book: 1:4, 68° for 8 minutes. Something else I routinely love about the F6 is the ability to go back and review shooting data. In the above shot, for example, I was amazed to realize the frame was made at +1.7EV.

The amount of detail and resolution PanF50 holds is remarkable. Without moving to my medium format system, PanF50 provides all I need when exposed, processed and scanned properly. Like other ‘high performance’ films, it’s not as flexible as say a TriX. But getting to know and understand it is well worth the time. I’ve ordered a bunch more for an upcoming trip to New Mexico in July.

Pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600 with the Nikon F6

Night Walker, River North Chicago (2016)

Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit Chicago again. Growing up in the suburbs I’d never had occasion to overnight in the city, with home being only 30 miles away. This trip we decided it was time we changed that.

Harry Caray's, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.
Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

One of the wonderful things about spending the night in the city is – the night! Chicago, as many other cities, is so active at night, with so much light that it’s easy to photograph hand held with the right setup.

The City at Night, Dearborn St. Bridge over Chicago River; River North District at Night, Chicago, Illinois
The City at Night, Dearborn St. Bridge over Chicago River; River North District at Night, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.
Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

In anticipation of various low-light scenarios on this trip I stocked up on Ilford HP5+. In the past I’ve shot it at rated 400 with success. One goal for this trip was to simply drift about the city at night to see what I could see. Pushing HP5 was an excellent way to avoid a tripod and open the experience up to simple creative experimentation. This outing was shot with the Nikkor 17-35 f2.8 ED (remind me to tell the story of how I stumbled upon this incredible lens some time…) at ISO1600, off the hand, just having fun. Processed in Ilford DDX at 71° for 12 minutes.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.
353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.
353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois
353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois

The only thing really notable working with the F6 for these shots was taking advantage of the ENORMOUS viewfinder. To this day I’ve never seen anything like it.* It’s huge and bright, allowing easy composition in poorly lit situations. One of the other benefits of the F6 covered in another post is Custom Setting B5, Extended Shutter Speeds. Though shutter speeds were high enough for this roll to hand-hold, I always have Custom Setting B5 enabled on the F6.

House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.
House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

The creative liberty of shooting film, then processing your own film to desired tastes, is what film photography is all about. With what seems to be a true resurgence interest in film, there’s no better time to dive in. With a camera like the F6 that is flexible, dependable and durable for the rest of your natural life – it’ll be a robust adventure attempting to exceed its creative capabilities.

*A big thank you to Chris, our Canadian F6 Project reader, for pointing out he felt the Olympus OM-2 and Pentax ME Super actually have larger, brighter viewfinders than the F6. What a great time to be a film photographer, with so many wonderful tools accessible to work with.

Night Vision (sort of); or Custom Setting B5 (Extended Shutter Speeds)

Out of the box the F6 is set to display possible shutter speeds from 1/8,000 of a second to 30 seconds. After 30 seconds the camera has the customary “bulb” setting, allowing you to trip the shutter manually (with something like the MC-30 cable release) for as long an exposure as you can hold the shutter release down for.

Upper Wacker and Dearborn, Chicago, Illinois (2016). (exif data: 10″, F11, 24(17-35), F2.8, Color matrix, M, Front curtain sync, 0.0, -1.0,0.0, non-TTL auto flash, Multiple exposure, AE Unlock, VR off, 2016/12/28,19:59; Ilford HP5+)

Custom setting B5 in the CSM provides the capability to extend shutter speeds beyond the default 30 seconds, unlocking extended shutter speeds before reaching the Bulb setting. When this option is enabled, after 30 seconds, you’ll see 40 seconds, then 50 seconds, etc. all the way up to 30 minutes before you reach “bulb.”

For some photographers this is an advantage if you do a lot of night shooting, for example, and exposures typically run between 30 seconds and 30 minutes. For others that use the bulb setting frequently, it’s a disadvantage because you have a lot more spinning of the main command dial to do until you get to bulb. But at that point you’re not relying on the camera’s recommended exposure and instead, winging it.

Upper Wacker and the Chicago River, December 2016 (exif data: 02,20″,F8,20(17-35),F2.8,Color matrix,M,Front curtain sync,0.0,-0.3,0.0,non-TTL auto flash,None,AE Unlock,VR off,2016/12/28,19:42, Ilford HP5+)

I see it as an advantage because the meter on the camera is capable of resolving exposure well beyond 30 seconds. For the above exposures the longer times weren’t necessary for the final shot because between f8 and f11 the correct exposure came in between 10 and 20 seconds. But- having the ability to dial down the aperture and lengthen the shutter speed and get an accurate meter reading was helpful determining the final exposure.

Film: Ilford HP5+, developed in Ilford DDX.

Below are are a few more from the trip. Not wishing to carry a tripod around the city, these were shot hand-held by pushing HP5+ to ISO1600, and developed in DDX.

Chicago at Night, Harry Carry’s, Chicago. Nikon F6 + HP5+@ISO1600, developed in Ilford DDX
Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois. Nikon F6 + HP5+@ISO1600, developed in Ilford DDX
Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois. Nikon F6 + HP5+@ISO1600, developed in Ilford DDX

Nikon F6 + CLS (Creative Lighting System)

The setup: The F6 with the Nikon SU-800 Commander head mounted in the hot shoe; the Nikon SB-800 Speed Light (at left behind the diffusion panel) and the Nikon SU-R200 Speed Light at right with the white diffusion panel in front of it.

I’ve wanted to do a CLS write up for a while and finally had a nicely suited project to use. When the warm weather ends I clean out the shop from summer projects and get ready for some indoor fun through winter. This almost always turns up something interesting I forgot I had. This time it was this antique STANLEY Thermos, complete with frayed, knit sock. I thought it would be an appropriate entry to my Shop Series. So I’ll use the Thermos shot to introduce a few CLS components and how to work with them. You’ll see it’s pretty simple, but without a “quick start” it’s easy to file CLS into the “I’ll get around to it some day” bin.

Film photography with off-camera flash using Nikon's CLS is one of the truly great things about shooting film with the Nikon F6.
STANLEY Thermos Project – black and white: Film photography with off-camera flash using Nikon’s CLS is one of the truly great things about shooting film with the Nikon F6.
The setup: The F6 with the Nikon SU-800 Commander head mounted in the hot shoe; the Nikon SB-800 Speed Light (at left behind the diffusion panel) and the Nikon SU-R200 Speed Light at right with the white diffusion panel in front of it.
The setup: The F6 with the Nikon SU-800 Commander head mounted in the hot shoe; the Nikon SB-800 Speed Light (at left behind the diffusion panel) and the Nikon SB-R200 Speed Light at right with the white diffusion panel in front of it.
Stanely Thermos Project - color. Nikon F6 + Kodak Ektar, developed in Cs41 color developing kit.
Stanley Thermos Project – color. Nikon F6 + Kodak Ektar, developed in Cs41 color developing kit.

One of the key attributes of the F6 is the circuitry it contains to run Nikon’s Creative Lighting System, or CLS. No other Nikon film SLR has this ability. If you’re not using your F6 + CLS you’re missing out on one of the features making it unique. There are two components (besides the camera) you’ll need to run CLS on your F6:

a) The SU-800 Commander head. Because the F6 does not have a built-in flash, access to the CLS control is through the SU-800 mounted on the camera’s hot shoe. The SU-800 looks a little like flash but doesn’t actually contain a strobe unit. This is the brain, so to speak. You could also use a CLS capable speed light like the SB-800. This also has a “Commander” mode allowing access to the same functionality.

Nikon F6 with the Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800. At first glance it looks like a flash - but there's no strobe unit.
Nikon F6 and Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800. At first glance it looks like a flash – but there’s no strobe unit. The red center emits a beam allowing focus assist in low-light conditions. The SU-800 retails for about $250 and uses 1 3-volt CR123 battery – the same battery as the F6 without the grip.
Nikon SU-800 Commander flash head, required to access the F6's CLS functions.
Nikon SU-800 Commander flash head, required to access the F6’s CLS functions. The letters and numbers visible in  the SU-800 display indicate the Channels each flash can use for individual control. Light levels are set on the Commander head and wirelessly communicated to remote Speed Lights. Pretty slick.
The SU-800 Commander head allows control over each "remote" flash via the menu. Here the SB-800 on left is shown in Group A; the SB-R200 on right is shown in Group B. Each group allows independent control of power levels.
The SU-800 Commander head (center) allows control over each “remote” flash via the menu. Here the SB-800 (left) is shown in Group A; the SB-R200 (right) is shown in Group B. Each group allows independent control of power levels.
Nikon SB-800: the long-time workhorse of the Creative Lighting System. The SB-800 menu system is a little more cryptic than the newer SB-900 series, but not prone to shut off due to overheating issues like the 900 is.
Nikon SB-800: the long-time workhorse of the Creative Lighting System. The SB-800 menu system is a little more cryptic than the newer SB-900 series, but not prone to shut off due to overheating issues like the 900 is.

b) At least one CLS-compatible flash, which means anything after the Nikon SB-300 and up. For this shot I’ll be using the SU-800, SB-800 Speedlight and the diminutive SB-R200 Speedlight.

SU-R200 Speedlight, part of the Nikon's R1C1 Macro Kit. I use these little guys all the time. They're small, portable, just enough power to breathe life into - but not over power the scene.
SB-R200 Speedlight, part of the Nikon’s R1C1 Macro Kit. I use these flexible little guys for all kinds of things. They’re small, portable, just enough power to breathe life into – but not overpower – the scene.
The SB-800 set to "REMOTE." Interacting with flash settings is accomplished from the Commander head.
The SB-800 set to “REMOTE.” Interacting with flash settings is accomplished from the Commander head.

To reinforce how simple CLS is to use I’ll keep it brief. The concept is simple: the SU-800 commander head communicates wirelessly with the other flashes and tells them when – and how bright to fire. The other flashes are simply set to “REMOTE” mode – ready to receive instructions from the Commander.

Because I’m going through the trouble to do this on film – film is cheap and I’m going to make the most of the opportunity. I devoted a full roll of Ilford FP4+ to bracket flash output and depth of field. Another nice thing about having plenty of images to choose from is if film acquires some imperfections in processing such as water spots or scratches there are plenty of other frames to choose from. Sometimes those analog anomalies add to “the look,” other times they don’t.

Here is a sample of the EXIF data generated from the chosen frame:

07, 2″, F13, 105, F2.8, Color matrix, M, Front curtain sync, 0.0, +0.2, 0.0, non-TTL auto flash/Optional speedlight/Multiple flash, None, AE Unlock, VR off, 2016/11/06,17:09

You can see there’s no specific flash power output; i.e., what the flash on Channel 1A was set to vs. 1B. Keeping notes on such things helps in future projects. The PhotoMemo Photographer’s Memo Book below (picked up from Mike Padua’s shootfilmco.com web site) came in handy to record the different steps – things that weren’t recorded in EXIF data.

After shooting, developing (Ilford DDX at 1:4 for 10 minutes) and scanning (Nikon LS-5000), Meta35 was used to marry the EXIF data with each frame.

Using Nikon's Creative Lighting System with black and white film.
Shop Series: STANLEY Thermos, Fort Collins, Colorado (2016)

The final result was the frame I felt best balanced light levels, depth of field and overall look and feel. To state the obvious – yes, it would have been easier to do this digitally. But for my creative goals there was no substitute for representing this vintage item in anything other than black and white film. I was particularly interested in how film rendered the different textures and imperfections in the smooth but aged metal finish of the thermos, the shiny metal cap and of course that beautiful knit sock complete with frayed threads dangling. From the moment I saw it – it had to be film.

Photographer's PhotoMemo book from shootfilmco.com. Inexpensive, well thought out and easy to have with you in a shirt pocket.
Photographer’s PhotoMemo book from shootfilmco.com. Inexpensive, well thought out and easy to have with you in a shirt pocket.

If questions come to mind as you explore CLS shoot me a note on our newly re-vamped contact page. I’d love to see anyone with a F6 look into Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. It’s a unique feature and will change your photography for the better.

Road Trip: Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah

~ Desert Rat ~
(lyrics by Michael Martin Murphy)

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016)
Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 17-35mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO50. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

She sits on the front porch
(Of) the old house that stands scorched
Under the sun stroke of a desert day that choked
Her old man who fell in the sun.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah 92016)
Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm 1:2.8G ED + Green filter + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED. /em>

With rattle snakes and keep sakes
Old boxes of Corn Flakes
Grammar phones and gem stones
And three unclaimed door frames
And bleached bones and rocks by the ton.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah
Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO50. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

Good by ol’ desert rat
Ya half crazy wild cat
You knew where it was at
What life’s all about.

Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah
Valley of the Gods National Monument, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford PanF50+ at ISO50. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED. Color in the top 4 images is not a faux sepia tone – it’s what happens when the scanning software scans black and white films as color. My fixer was getting a little old so there’s a slight cast to the negatives. I left it for these top images thinking it added something to the overall feel.

Ya saver of catalogs, king of the prairie dogs
Success is survival and you toughed it out,
You toughed it out.

Old Bridge and San Juan River, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)
Old Bridge and San Juan River, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

The old loud mouth rock hound
He kept the kids spellbound
Half crazy and sun baked
Ya eared your own grubstake
By breakin’ your back all day long

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)
San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

With junk art and dunk carts
Old Model T parts, frustrated, outdated and uneducated
At eighty you still wrote good songs.

Montezuma Creek, Utah 92016)
Montezuma Creek, Utah (2016). Niikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

So goodbye of Ol’ Desert Rat
Ya half crazy wild cat
You knew where it was at
What life’s all about.

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)
San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 8 minutes. Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

All ya savers of “Whole Earth” catalogs
Kings of the prairie dogs
Success is survival
We’ll all tough it out

San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016)
San Juan Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Utah (2016). Nikon F6 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-70mm 1:2.8D ED + Ilford FP4+ at ISO125. Developed in Ilford DDX @ 1:4 for 10 minutes Scanned with Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED.

Yes, we’ll all tough it out.

Old Bridge Bar and Grille, Mexican Hat, Utah
Old Bridge Bar and Grille, Mexican Hat, Utah. iPhone 6 panorama.
This map shows the entire route. Photographs on this page were made within the white circle.
This map shows the route of our fall trip. The photographs on this page were made within the white circle. Google maps.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico (2016)

One of the things I’ve looked forward to each year since – forever – is my fall trip. This year it was down to the Four Corners area of the US and covered territory in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah then back in Colorado. We visited a handful of awe-inspiring destinations – some for the first time, others back for another go.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico
Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico

You can do your best to plan a trip well but at the end of the day the ability to roll with whatever is presented yields a better overall experience. Weather, light, crowds and other unforeseen circumstances like car trouble can either crater your objective – or – present opportunities to rise and meet challenges.

When it comes to putting time, money and energy into visiting a specific place with specific goals, there’s one clear choice for me and that’s the F6. In the past I’ve shot a good bit of color at some of these destinations. This year I felt like switching it up a bit and decided to shoot black and white film between rolls of Velvia. Velvia is great stuff – but bright, sun-lit days are not what I’d consider  ideal conditions to get the most from it, even with a warming filter.

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)
Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

The first destination on our stop was the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in north western New Mexico. There are two primary washes, or drainages in the Bisti; a north and a south. The northern wash is referred to as Hunter Wash, the southern as the Gateway or Alamo Wash. The main, visible (but primitive) parking area is adjacent to the southern wash. The northern wash takes a little route finding to access but nothing too arduous. Both are fascinating and provide explorers plenty to see with minimal elevation gain. The area is pretty flat – which is a new (and welcome) difference compared to so many other areas requiring a lot of strenuous climbing. It’s almost as if you’re simply going for a walk once you cross the Wilderness Area boundary. To scamper up the hills and ravines is a relatively easy task.

One of the things I realized in my research of the area was how difficult it was to attain a sense of scale while viewing images. I’d see a geological feature and wonder if it were 10 feet tall or a hundred. I’ll leave the mystery to you as well as you view the images. I will say that despite ominous warnings and perceptions that accompany such a remote, designated wilderness such as the Bisti I was pleasantly surprised how accessible and friendly it felt.

 

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, Hunter Wash, New Mexico (2016)
Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, Hunter Wash, New Mexico (2016)

The general layout of the area is these large primary washes run southwest, with many of the interesting features residing in the off-shoot canyons and drainages feeding the main washes. We were a little nervous about getting lost, having read several accounts of people doing so resulting in cold nights spent in the badlands. I found, however, that with basic navigation and orienteering skills getting lost wouldn’t be a problem. We did use the GPS feature of our iPhones as a back up. There’s no cell signal but the GPS functionality of the device works perfectly without it. Yet another reason to love smart phones.

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)
Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

It was cold that first night and the next morning before dawn we woke at 5am, donned head lamps and headed into the unknown Alamo Wash in the dark looking for a good place to catch first light. The light is the most difficult part of visiting the Bisti, or other badlands areas blessed (?) with so much sun. Harsh bright light and harsh shadows have the photographer praying for cloud cover. Alas – sometimes there’s simply none to be found.

Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)
Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexio (2016)

There were nearly a dozen cars at the trail head by the time we returned from the morning hike. After grabbing a quick bite and watering up we headed into the northern wash searching for the Wings. More to come…

Post Scrip: after this first trip I found a great weather resource that will help plan additional trips. The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a unique and special place worthy of more time and attention.