Having a wee bit of a crisis of faith . . .

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by Kami-the-Trout, Dec 20, 2009.

  1. Kami-the-Trout

    Kami-the-Trout Member

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    OK, I've been messing around with LF and alt processes for a couple of years now, but am really still a LF newbie. I have an old Ansco 8x10, a couple of lenses in barrels, and shoot mostly on Efke 25, tray-processed.

    I have a lot of darkroom experience from past years shooting 35 mm for a newspaper, so for the most part I get good negs. Last year I played with pt/pd, but found the process difficult to get consistent results in my little darkroom/lab.

    This year I tried Van Dykes, and have had much more success making contact prints that look good. Good shadows and highlights, etc. They are decent prints, I think.

    Here's my crisis.

    I VDB printed a photo, then just for fun, I printed the same scene from a digital file on my Epson 3800 with glossy paper. I took the digital pic same day and time with my Canon G9. I use my G9 as my light meter, so I always have duplicate files.

    Printed at 8x10, the G9 is virtually indistinguishable from the VDB contact print. With a loupe, you can see the contact print has more detail but not without it. I can tone/colour the digital file so it matches the look of the VDB.

    So the question is -- why am I playing with alt processes? It's discouraging, because for 1/100 the effort and time, I can pop out a digital print that equals in appearance the effort of the contact printed LF/VDB print.

    I've read a bunch of times how contact prints are supposed to outshine everything else. I'm not seeing it. I don't see how I can make the neg any sharper, it's damn sharp and has good tonality, but the digital camera does a darned good job at 8x10 prints sizes. And this was my G9! If I took out my Pentax K7, it would do even better, as it noticeably outresolves my G9. A Canon 5D or other full frame sensor machine would be that much better again!

    Obviously, at big print sizes the LF neg starts to win. I've scanned the negs and printed 16x20s from my Epson 3800; they look awesome compared to digital. I can't alt process big prints like that, however. It's a contact printing game.

    Please help me understand why I am messing with 100-year-old technology when 2009 tools do so capable a job. I love the idea of playing with LF and the alt processes, but it seems hard to justify when the output is so easily matched by digital. Thank you.
     
  2. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    That's why.

    And that is either irrelevant or not depending on your reasons for doing it.

    You don't have to do everything by the most convenient method just because you can.


    Steve.
     
  3. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Detail is only one advantage of a LF negative. Here in Florida I'm frequently shooting into high contrast situations. I've been at group photo outings where others using digital will walk away from a scene that I'm capturing on film. They can of course do multiple exposures for the HDR scenes, but multiple exposures adds constraints.
    I haven't done VDB, but Kallitypes are similar. I've now switched to pt/pd, and am really enjoying the greater control and better end results as compared to Kallitypes and other alt processes. The NA2 version makes printing high contrast negs a snap. For truly detailed images I do Lodima; but the pt/pd also yields surprisingly good detail.
    But, in the end, if you don't enjoy the process, then switch
     
  4. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    As Doug says, where we live, film handles the great contrast much more easily than digital. And I also shoot digital. But I enjoy the process of getting out from in front of a computer and dealing with real images, not 1s and 0s. It's what you like to do.
    juan
     
  5. Sim2

    Sim2 Subscriber

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    This may not help you too much as this is a bit of a nebulous reply but....

    I think it is fair to say that most processes can be replicated by digital/photoshop. Most of the stuff that I shoot for myself could be done faster, quicker etc using digital but I choose a different route, not because I am looking for the difficult route but because I enjoy the process. I like using film, I like using (and trying to understand) the chemicals, I like the finished print. Personally, I gain satisfaction from applying the processes to reach the final print. I do not get the same satisfaction when producing digital based work despite having a faster turnaround.

    If all that interests you is the final photo - does it matter how you got there? Go digital and you will get there faster, but if the actual process (and understanding/conquering) the process is of interest then digital will only replicate the process. It is a fine distinction I admit!

    Another point is that L/F can do things that the digi G9 or Mk11 cannot do e.g. easy application of movements, differential focus etc. If the actual capabilites of the L/F format are employed then the picture can be something that may be not possible with inexpensive digi capture.

    Failing that - shoot digi, output to transparent print media at any size and contact print that. 20"x20" contact prints? Easy. Have seen some articles about hybrid capture/output especially with platinum/palladium prints that are very interesting.

    I think it really depends upon what you are wanting from your time?

    Not much help,
    Sim2.
     
  6. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    there really isn't any reason to use film or a large camera ( or smaller camera ) or alt process
    or do anything in life ... unless you want to.

    it is much easier to get bored with a numeric file ...
     
  7. steelneck

    steelneck Member

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    It is a handicraft, that is why. Look at it this way:

    Why build your own wooden chairs when you could go to the store and buy them? Why do some people insist on playing on big old pianos when they can do it in a computer? Why do some people use hours and hours on hand making clothes out of bare fabrics when they can buy them at the supermarket? Some people even love to make their own butter the way it was done 200 years ago. And so on, there are endless numbers of examples...

    And also, we are keeping an old handicraft alive, that is in some way important.
     
  8. André E.C.

    André E.C. Member

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    [YOUTUBE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZQyVUTcpM4&feature=fvst[/YOUTUBE]

    :wink:
     
  9. Bruce Watson

    Bruce Watson Member

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    There's more to a photograph than simple resolution. LF gives you a handful of things that digital capture can't do right now. It gives you a larger range of tonality which you can easily see in B&W. It can capture a huge amount of subject brightness range (SBR) in a single exposure -- what usually takes several exposures and HDR processing for digital capture. LF also captures a huge amount of visual detail information if you want to make really large but "nose-sharp" prints -- it takes extremely expensive (twice what my car costs) and heavy gear to come anywhere near what a sheet of 5x4 film can do, for less than $1.00 USD, and just a few grams of weight.

    I could go on....
     
  10. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    The one and only reason I'm getting back into big film is to make huge prints that can hold their detail on close inspection. That said, 8x10 will be my limit because I want to shoot color. BTW, I would love 5x12 but I haven't found a source for 5" aerial color negative film.
     
  11. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    ..
     
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  12. Kami-the-Trout

    Kami-the-Trout Member

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    Thanks everyone, I feel better about what I'm doing scouring the Freestyle catalogue, and why . . . I enjoy the process.

    As well, I've found one kind of LF/alt process result that I think would be very difficult to do digitally/ I stuck a lens/shutter from a old folding Hawkeye on a lensboard. The 8x10 neg captures the whole image circle. Contact printed on VDB, it makes a cool looking package, I think.

    [​IMG]

    And Andre, thanks for taking me back to high school. . .
     
  13. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    First of all, there's no guarantee that LF is the right tool for you. If another process makes you feel productive, then go for it. For me, when it comes to comparing film to that other technology, MF is where it's at... the right compromise between a number of factors. YMMV.

    Second sometimes the best way to appreciate something is to leave it for a time.

    I won't comment on X versus Y in terms of resolution and all that, it's been done so many times before. I do think you should seek out the ultimate LF output from a very good practitioner and see if it inspires you, but honestly, I know plenty of LFers who also use that other technology from time to time. I do.

    For me, LF is all about enjoyment of the whole analogue process, from composition on the big ground glass to whatever the final output may be.

    The most important part of the LF difference, to me, is the way the LF image is composed. It's like looking through a (slightly frosted!) window on the subject.... that's totally different from peering through a keyhole. Sometimes small format feels a bit like voyeurism to me :wink:

    I also find it really liberating to work with a ~100 year old camera with no electronica. It's just me, my wooden box, my film, and the subject. For someone who spends his daytime hours with some of the (ahem) most cutting edge electronic devices yet made, it's very refreshing.

    I would suggest meditating on these issues and consider whether they affect your composition. Set aside final output for a while; think about the ways of seeing and how they affect your images.

    These issues may or may not be important to you; if they are not then be honest with yourself and follow whatever path makes you feel productive. Nobody earns extra credit in the hereafter for doing what everybody else does; you have to find your own way.
     
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  15. WolfTales

    WolfTales Member

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    I hate getting that "resistance" feeling too. It can put some bad blockage in your work.

    I try to minimize it as much as possible by just pushing through it.

    The way I see it - fine - you may have not had the most eye catching platinum print now.

    But if you allow the resistance to stop your exploration of large format or platinum, then it will take you down another road.

    Your choice.
     
  16. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Some of us buy fish in a store: some spend great amounts of money to thrash around in a stream whipping a line through the air. WHY!?!?! - flyfishing-caught rainbow trout costs ... $987 (approx.) an ounce - $1,579/ pound. Store-bought is, what ...$10/pound. Doesn't make sense.

    Or does it...? The processs of shopping in a super market/ fish store is FAR different than flycasting - the results are, at best, minimally different. ... Yet ...

    There is NO question in my mind that a photograph taken and printed by Edward Weston is different and superior to one reproduced and digitally (or similarly) printed using a machine. Something of the soul of the photographer resides in that original print - and is filtered out automatically and efficiently the instant the unfeeling machine spits out the reproduction.

    Does this make "sense"?. Not likely, but after all, the very definition of "aesthetics" is "doesn't make sense".

    I can't "justify" it. I can only say that I feel better doing it than I do when I don't do it. To me, that is sufficent - MORE than sufficient.
     
  17. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Why?

    LF is archival

    LF can be done on the cold without battery problems

    LF is fun

    LF allows tilts and shifts, can your G9?

    LF - using it is an art


    Steve
     
  18. kauffman v36

    kauffman v36 Member

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    i am one who started shooting digital and did so for 2 years before discovering what is the love of my life (film, lol. my gf is convinced id choose a roll of tri-x over her). since then i can say ive put about 100 personal shots through my canon 40D in the past year, not work related which requires digital. i look for film everywhere, i ask everybody if they have old camera stuff tucked away somewhere. i am into it, i like how i am involved in each step of the process. and in my generation of instant gratification i often find myself enjoying the fact that i have no idea whats on that roll of film till i put some time into developing it. i now actually spend time composing a shot and deciding exposure based on individual spot meters in the scene using the zone system. i could sit in a field with my rz67 for 15 minutes fiddling with settings and notes and deciding where i want my shadows/highlights to land, then change my mind and wait another 20 minutes. by now im probably rambling but this seemed like the best place to express myself since you are/were having a digital/film faith crisis. put it this way, i am 19 years old and to know i am doing something a photographer did 100 years ago humbles me, and just makes me feel a certain way i cant explain.

    carry on ladies and gentlemen, my rambling is done, lol
     
  19. Loris Medici

    Loris Medici Member

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    Kami-the-Trout, I think you're confusing apples with oranges here. If you want a print from a LF negative that will rival digital capture / output (in terms of contrast and sharpness/detail) and/or that will include every fine detail the negative has to supply then print it on s/g paper. And if you like the color/hue you get from Vandyke then figure out the toning steps you have to do; it's possible...

    Now, Vandyke is made on plain watercolor paper and the sensitizer soaks in the paper (that's how it works; you have to have the solution into the paper), since the surface of plain watercolor paper is extremely rough compared to coated inkjet paper and/or s/g paper you loose fine detail and micro-contrast and detail. Plain watercolor paper's poor resolution is the limit here and that's why some other people (including myself) are happy with digital negatives and many alternative processes including pt/pd; the digital negative's poor resolution is masked by the even poor resolution of the paper.

    There could be many other reasons (and/or properties intrinsinc to the process) why people prefer to do Vandykes on plain watercolor paper (other than great detail/sharpness and strong blacks/great print density range), eventually since you seem to notice none it's simply not for you...

    Regards,
    Loris.

    P.S. If you want better results with alternative processes on plain watercolor paper then think about digital negatives. I don't say drop LF, just don't print alt-process from those. I know LF shooters that still prefer to shoot in LF but do digital negatives for printing those images with alt-processes. Go to hybridphoto.com for extra details since digital negative making isn't a subject suitable for this site...
     
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  20. Joe VanCleave

    Joe VanCleave Member

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    There's a lot to think about and discuss with this topic.

    The Pragmatic View:
    I'm interested in how these old processes (like VDB) were originally devised for strictly practical reasons: to produce a photographic image on paper, glass or metal. In this regard only, they can be considered obsolete, in the sense that there are other methods developed since then (silver gelatin, and subsequently inkjet) that are more practical, convenient, etc. Of course, from a strict pragmatic view, there is no "reason" to do VDB anymore.

    The Aesthetic View:
    Yet, since their practical application is now obsolete, we ironically find that they have other purposes which we now appreciate on a personal aesthetic level, whose attributes may not have been well considered in their heyday. This is often the case with technology; we don't consider the finer aesthetics of formats until they've disappeared from strictly practical applications. Some of these aesthetic factors involve, not only the tone of the image but, the surface texture and feel of the paper support itself. In my personal experience, as much as I love the convenience of a digitally-derived and processed monochrome image, the feel and texture of a well-crafted fiber-based silver gelatin print is clearly distinguishable on personal aethestic considerations.

    Process versus End Results:
    This is often the case with artists and artisans, regardless of medium but especially with photography (which is so dependant on materials and methods) that the process that unfolds during the creation and finishing of the printed image becomes an end in itself; and that often the viewing public is little aware of the process through which the finished print was derived and instead place their entire value of the work upon its finished appearance; and that often the aesthetic factors well-appreciated by the artisan himself are invisible to the viewer. There's also this concept of pragmatism which reemerges, wherein a "purpose" is defined for the work's end result (often commercial, or illustrative) and the means to achieving that end result are entirely invisible to those concerned only with the final image.

    Quality and Value:
    Artisans often assign values upon their work which, although not always strictly monetary, place great interest in the materials and methods involved in deriving the finished image, at least as important as the photographic image considered as a mere abstraction, totally seperate from the materials and process used. In this regard the Photoshop-derived VDB simulation may seem to be an "equivalent" to the actual VDB-processed print, at least if viewed on the web; yet these considerations ignore completely the physicality of the actual VDB print; even more invisible is the process used, as we've discussed before.

    So I find my personal considerations of photographic works functioning on two levels, the abstract and the physical. I can view a monochrome photographic image on the web and derive great pleasure from its tones, shapes and composition; yet viewing an equivalent image in physical form, whose physical attributes are aethetically pleasing (like silver gelatin, or VDB, or platinum/palladium) adds an entirely new dimension of appreciation to the experience, wherein the abstract image values, along with the physical attributes of the print, merge into a cohesiveness that is appreciated simultaneously on multiple levels, intellectual, emotional, physical, sensual.

    It therefore becomes implicit that the artist/artisan must choose his/her working tools and methods to purposely arrive at a finished work whose attributes and valuations are in agreement with one's inner vision. Perhaps the physical attributes of the print are of little value to the artist, in which case the use of digital imaging methods is entirely logical and practical. But for those whose vision of their finished work is inextricably interwoven with the physicality of the print, these now-obsolescent processes and methods are entirely necessary; invaluable, in fact.

    ~Joe
     
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  21. eclarke

    eclarke Member

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    Spray the inkjet with some water:tongue:..EC
     
  22. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Yep, that's no joke. As I detailed over at hybridphoto, I discovered some time ago that one can wash off the ink quite easily. So I developed procedure for making digital prints on photo paper that went like this: inkjet the neg onto the photo paper (in the dark), expose it, wash off the ink... By the way, this was done with the fancy ultra-archival epson ultrachrome inks :rolleyes: I added that to my list of "things that make you go hmm."
     
  23. Kami-the-Trout

    Kami-the-Trout Member

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    Thanks everyone, there are so many wonderful perspectives, thoughts, ideas, etc., here to think about, it has been most valuable.

    I do love working with film and the alt processes, much more than I ever did with the silver printing process, and certainly much more than the digital printing process, which feels empty somehow. So I will keep plugging away and strive to make better and better VDB prints — both technically and artistically — and not do an "apples to oranges" comparison between VDB and digital. Perhaps there is little point in such comparisons. It can't really just be about the end result.

    My digital gear has a place — the kids move too fast for pics with the 8x10 — but LF is where my artistic heart lives (for what that's worth). I think I will build that really big pinhole camera I've been pondering for the last several months, and print 16x20 VDBs or something . . .
     
  24. arigram

    arigram Member

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    You shouldn't take any artistic medium in faith.
    I would say you shouldn't take anything in faith, but I understand that's pushing it for most.
    Use what works for you, the medium you can express yourself, explore and further your artistic potential and can practically use and sustain.
    I am myself considering abandoning film as well, but so far undecided.
     
  25. Maris

    Maris Member

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    In the long run mere resemblances don't count. Electronic picture making can already replicate the surface appearance of any medium.

    A Van Dyke Brown photograph "is" but the digital confection merely "looks like". If "looks like" can pass for "same as" then by all means synthesize pictures by the most facile method. Much of popular culture accepts this paltry bargain especially when it comes to visual entertainment.

    I say Van Dyke Brown photographs, and in fact all real photographs, reassert the supremacy of "being" over "seeming".
     
  26. gmolzahn

    gmolzahn Member

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    Aside from the front and rear movements and so on which handle convergence and so on, analog processes simply look different I think. I'm in a photo group that shares BW images and only two of us use film and develop and print. I've seen beautiful digital images, but I simply enjoy the craft of using film and messing about in the dark with smelly chemicals. In addition, it's a slow process. When I use Photoshop, changes are immediately seen. In the darkroom, I have to wait until the prints dry to see if I got it right. It's a process that requires concentration, and experience, and study. We use these old technologies for their challenges and rewards. If I just want to get somewhere I drive my modern car that starts, has heat and A/C and keeps up with modern traffic. If I want to enjoy the drive, it's the MGB. If I just need snapshots, I use my DSLR. If I want to enjoy the craft of photography, it's film. Ansel Adams looked forward to digital innovations in the year or so before he died in 1984, and I've seen the images of digital masters, but I hope there will always be film and old cars and Coleman lanterns and wooden boats, etc., etc.