My first job, shooting film...

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I'm currently doing some photography for a charity which involves portraits, on the fly, in quite difficult situations - technically, but also sensitive subject matter. Almost without question, I decided to use the Pentax 67. I started out with a roll of Delta 400, but since they're more interested in colour images, I'm now using Portra 400 exclusively for the rest of the work.

    The deeper I get into it, the more uncertain I feel about my film decision. When I first mentioned it to the development manager of the charity, surprisingly, there wasn't any issue - I sort of made believe it was nothing. The fact of the matter is, since I've sold my DSLR lenses for financial reasons, I don't have much choice but to shoot on the Pentax. So this isn't actually a statement or crusade for film - it's somehow become the only practicality. The fact is that the work is dealing with a very timely issue in the UK, and the true value of the images might well be as historical documents, even if they're not used. Physical, archived photographs feel important for that reason. Someone has to think about the future... Now I sound like I'm crusading.

    The nature of the work means all the shots are handheld. Did I mention I'm using the Pentax 67? :smile: A few subjects have become restless while I meter and focus. I'm usually only getting one frame per person for this reason, unless I'm taking candids - which is a little questionable under the circumstances, where consent is important.

    But anyway, it's difficult for me to gauge whether my trepidation is purely about this being my first job (which is also politically sensitive) or the fact that I'm 'doing it tough' in the technical sense. I'm not really under any pressure however and as yet, haven't been given any time limit - except a mention that their last photographer worked for about a month. To get it done within this time frame seems reasonable. The biggest hurdle, as with anything, is being very up front with people and engaging them in the photograph. Then it's just about focusing efficiently with the Pentax!

    So ultimately, these are the things I'm struggling with. Firstly, I keep thinking "stop being so stubborn and just rent a couple of DSLR lenses" and go hard at it, problem free. My relative freedom with the work though means I have the opportunity to tackle my hiccups with the 67, but I suppose the hard truth is I'm not using the right camera for the job - by conventional standards at least. I'm also still unsure about how I'll present the final images within my financial means - whether I get them drum scanned in the city I'm working, hoping to get discount by telling them it's for an important cause. To 'befriend a drum scanner' has always been on my to do list and this situation has made it more vital than ever. I know this is a controversial area on APUG, but it's part of my reality here - shooting film for someone other than myself.

    For illustration, here's one of my first shots from that Delta roll:

    1.jpg
     
  2. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Looking at the shot you provided I'd say you are off to a decent start.

    When working with my RB in situations like that I really like using an incident meter and monopod (or a tripod spread really narrow).

    One click and I can set the lens, no guessing or math in my head. When I walk back to the camera position I can count steps and use the scale on the bellows extension to get focus close then a quick fine adjustment to focus with the finder and I'm ready to shoot. I assume the Pentax has a distance focus scale too.

    The real trick though is to have practiced your routine well enough that you can carry on a normal conversation about your subjects work, their day, and the weather with them while you are setting up.
     
  3. mgb74

    mgb74 Subscriber

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    You didn't say what the charity plans to do with the images. If they plan to use them in newsletter type publications or in web pages, I think you aren't using the right tool for the job (it's overkill). If they plan to make and display enlargements (greater than, say, 8x10), then you are. But if a P67 is what you have, then that's what you use. You may find that your images have value beyond what the charity wants/needs.

    FWIW, back when I was doing informal portraits for a music association, I started with a tripod but then decided not to use it. It had an effect on the subject that inhibited them a bit. Maybe if I was better at it, I could have overcome that. But I sense that in your situation, you don't want the subjects feeling the photo is "too big a deal".

    An incident meter is handy in that you can measure the light without intruding on the subject (assuming the interior is relatively evenly lit). But you do have to consider the effects of artificial existing light on color images.

    BTW, do you really need to go as far as drum scans? Would good quality flat bed scans serve their purpose?
     
  4. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I assume that there is an end product that you have agreed to provide. If you have agreed to supply 30 x 40 enlargements, the P67 is an excellent choice, but you will either have to have someone do custom optical enlargements, or consider either drum scans or something of near quality (Imacon?).

    If you are expected to supply prints that are somewhat smaller, either machine optical enlargements will suffice (if you have a source) or scans of more moderate cost will do fine.

    If the expectation is to provide small prints or web suitable digital images, then inexpensive scans should be fine (if done well).

    You can always have negatives re-scanned later at high resolution if a few larger enlargements are needed.

    Around here, labs will provide medium resolution scans from 6x7 sufficient for 11 x 14 prints for about $20.00 per roll (at time of processing).
     
  5. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    You may find for the subjects involved (and am not quite sure what they are), that black & white will provide a much stronger impact for what you are trying to achieve than colour.
     
  6. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Thanks for raising that point about overkill, especially with colour. The images will be used for information packs and most likely online. Maybe flatbed scans would offset the issue of the images being too 'rich'.
    And yes, a tripod would be out of the question of course, for being too intrusive. The key really is to avoid any kind of formal embellishments, which inevitably come with using a tripod.

    I'm using a metered prism with the Pentax. Thankfully the latitude of Portra means I only really have to meter once outdoors, in daylight. The trouble will come with the night shots next week, where I will have to push, and this is where flatbed scans probably won't cut it.
     
  7. whowantstoast

    whowantstoast Member

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    The only thing that scares me about shoots like this are the people themselves. They move, they blink, their tongues come out, they roll their eyes, they smile weird for a fraction of a second and there's not a thing you can do about it. So shooting only one frame would give me an impending sense of doom. I just did a shoot where this happened for several frames, it was uncanny. I've begun using a digital back-up for this reason only on shots that have to exist when I'm done. I'm up-front with the client about it too.
     
  8. TooManyShots

    TooManyShots Member

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    Personally, I think you are using the wrong tool for the job. The subjects do not care if you shoot film or digital. Maybe to other film users it is impressive. To someone who knows nothing about film, they don't care. They just want some photos of themselves taken. What you should have done is to rent a cheap DSLR like the 40D and some mid price zoom lens like the Sigma or Tamron 24-70 range. And also bring your Pentax with you. You would shoot both film and digital. Then, later, you can decide what you want to use. If the clients want color, you give them color. You don't explain to them why BW is better. You can shoot BW in addition to color.
     
  9. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    So, did they actually tell you explicitly no tripods/monopods?

    I ask for two reasons. 1- When I'm doing paid asignment work with ANY type or size of camera, I use a support wherever physically possible, even in bright sunny situations. This makes a huge difference in the quality of the shots I can get. 2- You have a night shoot coming next week, the darker it gets the more support (and artificial light) is needed.

    As to your night shots posing an issue for post process; only if you scrimp on exposure.
     
  10. TooManyShots

    TooManyShots Member

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    Oh, about your shot example? Yeah, I think you nailed the exposure and the tonality looks good. HOWEVER, the composition is bad. Your vertical line is not straightened. Two, too much space above the head. Third, the man's elbow has been cut off.
     
  11. batwister

    batwister Member

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    They didn't actually tell me no tripods, but because of the erratic nature of the subjects (most with mental health issues) they will only co-operate for fleeting moments. There's a lot of dancing about basically.
    But I take your point about the night shots and may will consider the tripod here.
     
  12. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Thanks for your list. I don't think the picture works completely, but for different reasons. Most significantly, the interaction between the two guys is confusing. I certainly won't be submitting the picture.
    I agree that the composition isn't quite right, but we all beat to a different drum in that respect.

    419.jpg
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2013
  13. adelorenzo

    adelorenzo Subscriber

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    Can you shoot with flash?
     
  14. noacronym

    noacronym Member

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    Can you shoot with flash--now THAT'S the question. And another thing--just tell your subjects that its a real camera that takes real film. Then laugh and tell them it will take a few seconds for you to get the picture set. Half the people in the group will be glad that they will eventually see the picture without ever having to touch a computer to do it. I think "The Computer" is starting to grate on peoples nerves now that everything they do forces them to have to go to the same damn computer. If that doesn't do it, then tell your crowd that they will never end up on the internet because your camera takes film.
     
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  15. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    batwister,

    Good for you to be photographing socially important issues, like this place that caters to people with mental health issues. I think you should do what you are doing, and just improve the process. You know simple things like going in repeatedly, getting permissions squared away beforehand (If possible. That might be a tall order). Shoot the general facilities without subjects to see how the lighting works. Meter before you engage the subject and compose the shot. Little things like that might lead you to being able to focus and shoot when the time comes.
     
  16. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    This is one of very, very few incidences when I would go for a smaller film camera that I can operate quickly, even an AF camera. The Pentax 67 is a beautiful piece of engineering (I never ever use mine without a tripod, and the images speak for that) but it is slow, cumbersome, unwieldly can be difficult to focus in low light and the meter is rudimentary in its decision making, especially in mixed light. If I had a choice, I would take the Olympus OM 4, with motor drive (if you are MF-preferenced), or one of the modern era AF Canons (1N, 3, 5...). Spontaneity and being ready for unexpected moments is what this sort of work is about, and I do not think the 67 is really suited to it. Having said that, you've made a good fist of the image. I am unconcerned about compositional errors in terms of on-the-fly, free-framing documentary and reportage, and the circumstances you have described are indeed challenging.

    A DSLR is not the answer. In its blithe automation and speed, it would only entice you to make many, many images and thus draw the whole job out, especially if you shoot bursts and the frames have very little intimacy or differences; professional editors would delete 300 and save just 4 being so ruthless over photographers' laissez-faire with these ubiquitous things. You're lucky then that the editing you do will comprise of maybe a few rolls of film and if technique is good, they'll be very, very sharp pics suitable for reproduction and printing to quite large sizes. :smile:
     
  17. noacronym

    noacronym Member

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    Yeah--what he said. +1.
     
  18. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    It IS possible to over-think issues to the point of having even worse outcomes than would have otherwise been the case. Sometimes I sense this is your greatest enemy. Perhaps the deceptively simple words of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US President, may be appropriate here. There is depth of wisdom in these short eleven words,

    "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

    Then just let everything else take care of itself. And surprisingly, it will...

    Ken
     
  19. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I was waiting for somebody to say this :smile: But such thoughts can easily become stubbornness I feel.

    Looking at the last photographer's images, shot on a DSLR, they are naturally and appropriately free of any kind of compositional artifice. They work for their directness and clear interaction with the subject.
    It's of course very self-indulgent to be striving for artful compositions under the circumstances, and the reason I took this on was partly to try and free my photography of contrivance.

    Sent the Portra off for development today and will make a decision about the use of the Pentax when I see them.

    I'd hope this thread can stir some debate about 'idealism vs. realism' regarding the use of film photography in these situations. I'm not giving up on using it yet, but trying to determine how much of it is simply about ego - as TooManyShots hinted at in his first post.
     
  20. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Batwister,

    I think the point that Garyh is making is that the tool isn't the issue.

    I would have no hesitation in using film for the task you have described. I doubt Garyh would either.

    There are various methods for shooting any photo, whether a method is realistic or not, depends on the expectations of the task at hand, the preferences of the photographer, and the tools available. There is no all encompassing answer that will fit all.

    One of the big advantages film provides is one that you are already using.

    Somebody else does the back end work and that is a huge advantage when that backend time or the backend tools at hand are considerations. (This idea is universal regardless of method.)

    Assuming both you and the lab do good work, you will get good results.
     
  21. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    If your shot is representative of the kind of interaction and scenarios that are required then I think you have caught the essentials. It is the expression and relationship of the two individuals and the setting that count. I hadn't even noticed the elbow being cut off or any vertical/horizontal "discrepancies"

    I suspect I might have been less centred on the people and scene i.e. distracted, had it been in colour so B&W seems very appropriate to me

    As far as tripod/monopod and its cumbersome and off-putting quality is concerned, 7Dayshop sells an attachment that fixes to the tripod thread and has an extendable wire that runs to your foot so acts as a monopod but with hardly anything for the subject to see.

    It might be worth considering.

    Best of luck with the project

    pentaxuser
     
  22. batwister

    batwister Member

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    That's a good idea, thanks.