JBrunners guide #1 Magic bullets for B&W beginners.
In this article, I am going to lay out a camera, lens, exposure, film, developing, paper and printing regimen that will speed you on your way to achieving print Nirvana.
Camera: A good one that works, and that feels at home. Learn how it works, and keep clean and in good working order. Find out what CLA means.
Lens: The best one(s) you can afford. Lenses are a place where money usually pays dividends. Don't get too hung up though, they can't make you a great photographer. Be a photographer with good gear, not a gear head.
Exposure: If you can, bracket. If you can't, overexpose just a bit. If you are just starting out, shoot a whole series of shots of the same thing in the same light across all the stops, just to see. Realize there is no correct exposure, merely choices that have consequences.
Film: Pick a film, maybe two if you need high and low speed, and don't shoot anything else until you can speak about those emulsions with the competence that can only be earned from experience and a multitude of scenarios.
Developing: If you are trying to read AA's The Negative and it isn't making any sense, put it down for a month. Repeat, until it makes sense. Pick a readily available developer that isn't exotic. Follow a conventional developing regimen. In the beginning, exotic developers, stand developing, etc. are an utter waste of your time, and you won't learn squat. In developing do everything exactly the same each time. If you think something can be better, change one thing at a time and one thing only
and keep notes, otherwise you are just flailing. An intimate understanding of cause and effect is the basis of the technical part of photographic mastery.
Paper: Sealed name brand paper that is in date, and has been stored correctly. You won't know if you are off or if paper is off when you are just starting out. Film and paper are lousy places to cut corners until you have the skills to evaluate that great open box bargain you bought out of a car trunk in the middle of the summer.
Printing: Much the same as developing. Run a safe light check. Read the last sentence again. If you have lousy negs, go make some good ones. Beyond learning what a crappy neg is, struggling to print a really bad one won't teach you much in the beginning. Later, when you are rocking you can go back and print those difficult negs. At that point they may not be difficult at all.
Summation: There is no camera, no lens, no film, no developer, no kind of developing, no paper, and no printing method that will make your work sing in the beginning. All the really cool stuff on APUG about developers, stand developing, pre-flashing, split grade printing, yada yada, is great reading, but can be usefully applied and evaluated only by the photographers here that have the discipline, consistency, and experience that allows the tiny little differences these things offer find a useful place in the tool set.
The magic bullet for beginners is consistency with well established processes, and careful and methodical observation of cause and effect.
Your creativity will truly be stifled if you do something that just rocks, but you don't know what you did. Don't be a someone with a thousand monkeys with typewriters hoping that one of them writes MacBeth.
The other thing is to have fun.
Last edited by JBrunner; 07-25-2009 at 09:57 AM. Click to view previous post history.
That's just, like, my opinion, man...
An excellent piece of advice. And, it holds true for photographers that have been at it for a while as well! There really isn't much of a reason either, other than to satisfy your curiosity, to dive in and use 'exotic' materials once you're a seasoned and skilled photographer / printer / artist.
I look at splendid artists like Bill Schwab. He is a very good example for those that think they need flashy materials. He's used the same Hasselblad camera for decades, and he keeps it CLA'd and serviced by experts. One film (Tri-X), one developer (HC-110), one paper (Ilford), one paper developer (Ilford), and sepia and selenium toners. That's it. And now go look at his prints!
I have had the fortune of holding many of his prints in my hands, and they are SPECTACULAR! He's an amazing artist.
For me, I use that almost like a mantra. My materials are different (easy to get stuff), but I'm using one film, one developer, two papers (one for standard printing, both work with lith chemistry), and two paper developers (standard and lith). And I have to tell you that I was farting around (flailing, as you say) for too long with various films and chemistry. You're absolutely right; it got me NOWHERE!
You will also be doing yourself a favor by using the same materials over and over. If you ever want to, or have to, exhibit your work, you will have a cohesive look to them. This makes it much easier for you. I am right now printing up portfolios, which is a chore, because I have used at least five different kinds of paper to make individual prints within a series - now I have to do it all over again on the SAME paper.
You speak the truth. No materials will make a great photographer and printer. But a great photographer and printer will make GOOD materials sing. It takes a lot of practice to get there; I've been doing this for eight years now, and I still consider myself very much a learner.
Thank you, Jason! I will actually take your words, transfer them to a Word document, snazz it up, make sure it's clear where the words came from, and give it to everybody and anybody I know that is a photography beginner.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
As a beginner myself (who has just recently began developing B&W negatives), I was impressed to find out about the wide range of things you can do with just one film and one developer [combination]. I'm just glad that I can accomplish a lot of looks, or effects, while keeping my darkroom very simple.
Great article Jason; Let's see if in a few months the last half part of the manual can be of use to me. I've still got to start B&W film dev.
I was bored this evening, and I did this simple PDF in 15 minutes. PDF's are a more consistent format than .doc and such. It works great with any OS and PDF reader, so it's a good format for sharing.
The text is 99% identical; I only modified the "AA's The negative" for "Ansel Adams' The negative". I had some strange feeling that led me to do this evil action. I hope JB won't mind the little change
Dude, that's awesome. Many thanks.
Originally Posted by Prest_400
That's just, like, my opinion, man...
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One "rule" I have tried to follow lately is only print negatives you REALLY, REALLY want to print. Don't be diverted by the "should dos", "must dos", "he/she'll like this ones", "this shows how smart I ams" etc etc. Fun and joy and satisfaction is slaving over a print you really love. Slaving over anything else is ultimately not very satisfying and steals time from the others. You will always(eventually) have hundreds or thousands of negs that will never see the light of an enlarger so always start with the "next favourite" one that inspires you.
Good work JB.
Developing: Says it all, there is nothing worse than flailing and nothing harder than trying to help a flailer. Good concise read Jason.
Perfect advice Jason, wish I followed it when I started.
"Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once and a while, you might just miss it."
Jason has always been well balanced and down to earth about calm successful approaches to most things. I wish I was able to take on his temperament ;-).
Stop worrying about grain, resolution, sharpness, and everything else that doesn't have a damn thing to do with substance.
Originally Posted by Sirius Glass
Good morning, Steve;
Thank you for answering before I had asked.
My first thought was; "Oh, no. Another new Palm Pilot or I-pod, or something has come out."
And, for Jason, also; "Thank you." A nice concise statement of a worthwhile goal to achieve in our early days in photography. No, take out the part about "in our early days."
Ralph Javins, Latte Land, Washington
When they ask you; "How many Mega Pixels you got in your camera?"
just tell them; "I use activated silver bromide crystals tor my image storage media."
One comment I keep making to my students:
"The fastest way to become a better photographer is to make photographs."
It's amazing how many people don't take this to heart.
Let's see what I've got in the magic trash can for Mateo!