Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Silver birch re-scan

The photo in today’s post is a few years old – it was taken on a cold, but bright, February day back in 2018 on the edge of the moorland near Surprise View in the Peak District national park. I don’t think I’ve published this picture online anywhere before now.

I re-scanned it, and the rest of the photos on the roll, yesterday, using Vuescan to make a linear RAW DNG file and then Negative Lab Pro for the conversion in Lightroom.

Now I understand how to use NLP properly (or at least much better – there are still a bunch of controls and sliders that I stay away from!), I’m very pleased with the ease of getting colours that I’m happy with almost straight out of the box. I still tweak things a little, first using NLPs controls, and then maybe some minor tweaks in Lightroom itself (usually adding a little clarity and sharpness), but there has been none of the annoying mental gymnastics where I can’t decide if the colours are “off” in some hard to define way.

Obviously, colours are subjective, whether it be someone sat at home trying to get what they think Portra or whatever film stock they’ve used to look “right”, or a technician in a photo-lab making adjustments in the Noritsu software (or whatever it is they use) on the behalf of the photographer. So far, Negative Lab Pro has given me colours that feel correct with very little faff on my part, and for this I am thankful. I love black and white photography, but this new found ability to get results I’m happy with from C41 film is making me want to shoot more of the stuff (and re-scan some of the photos where I had less than satisfactory results in the past). It’s just a shame I need to sell a kidney to afford colour film these days!

Silver birch and quarry scree

Zeiss Mess-Ikonta 524/16 & Kodak Portra 400. Lab developed. Home scanned and converted with Negative Lab Pro.

Taken on 7 February 2018

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Barcelona market stalls

I’ve been re-scanning some older negatives over the past couple of days – some Portra 400 shots made during a trip to Barcelona with my wife back in 2019. The main reason for the re-scanning (actually not re-scans really, as the originals were lab scans) is to see what they look like when converted with Negative Lab Pro. The answer is… much better than any previous attempts I’ve made.

The original lab scans were fine but I know I can get much more resolution and detail out of my Plustek than the scan sizes the lab provides can offer – even their large scans – with the bonus of it not costing me anything to do so. And I’m finding that Negative Lab Pro is giving me colours that I’m actually happy with!

So today, here are several photos I took inside one of the markets in Barcelona – the Mercat de Sant Antoni, I believe. I guess that British market stalls are just as interesting to look at really, but there’s a definite draw in seeing the different wares on offer in other countries. Some markets in the UK might provide delicatessens akin to the ones here, but they are not commonplace, so it’s always interesting to see the mundane through the eyes of a visitor.

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Kodak Portra 400.

Taken on 17 June 2019

35mm · Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Colour blindness – struggles with converting colour negatives in a way I’m happy with

One of my biggest issues with colour film is, well… the colour. Getting the darned stuff to look “right” is a test for my patience and also my sanity it can seem. Even when I get it looking right, a later glance reveals that I was completely incorrect and it looks terrible. How much of this is down to the actual results of my efforts (or the lab’s) and how much is down to the obsessive perfectionism that my brain likes to lay on me from time to time is up for debate.

I’ve gone through a number of iterations when it comes to scanning colour film negatives over the past five or six years. When I first began scanning my own film, my only option was my Epson V550 and the Espsonscan software that came with it. This gave passable results but not ones I was ever truly happy with. Colours would look “off” sometimes, with odd colour casts which would differ from film to film. I tried using ColorPerfect as a Photoshop plugin, which addmitedly helped (a bit) but also seemed to render shadow areas full of horrible looking noise.

Later, when I got my Plustek 35mm scanner, it came with a copy of Silverfast, so I tried that with it’s built-in film profiles. While I was able to get better results – and in some cases ones I was quite happy with – they still didn’t look right, no matter how I played with the settings.

So then I tried Vuescan. Again, never quite right (although it does a great job on 35mm slides).

I then decided to start getting my colour film developed by a lab that provided scans at a reasonable price. There was an additional cost for posting my film off, and a delay while I waited for the results, but on the whole the scans were nice, if perhaps a little warm looking (the lab would have changed that had I asked though). For a while I was happy, but the thing that put me off in the end was the resolution of the scans. While 35mm was acceptable, they used the same “x pixels on the short side” ratio whether it was a 35mm or medium format negative, leading to the frustrating situation where a 6×6 120 film negative would come back with a smaller scan than a 35mm image. So I went back to using my local lab and scanning them myself again. This decision was made mostly when I discovered Grain2Pixel.

Grain2Pixel – a free Photoshop Plugin – converts linear scans to positives. Here, at last, I thought I had found THE solution. It gave me the best results I’d seen so far… most of the time anyway. Some films, unfortunately, it struggled with (for me at least), particularly Kodak Portra, always giving the images a blue cast that was difficult for me to remove satisfactorily. With a lot of faffing about in Lightroom I could get them close to where I wanted, but I was still unsatisfied, and there would always be a few problem negatives that seemed to actively reject giving anything close to accurate colours.

Negative Lab Pro (NLP) has probably been the go-to solution for scanning colour film negatives for a few years now. I’d played with the trial vesion before but not been any more satisfied with the results than from Grain2Pixel, so never paid for the license. Last week though, I decided to have another go. This time I spent much more time understanding how it worked and, lo-and-behold, after RTFM’ing I got much better results. After playing with the 12 free conversions that you get with the trial version, I decided to bite the bullet and put my hand in my pocket for the full version.

This week I’ve been scanning a variety of negatives, using Vuescan to create a RAW DNG file of the images, and then converting them in Negative Lab Pro. I’ve mostly been happy with the results – particularly some Portra 400 negatives that I’m very pleased with (see examples below).

This is a Noritsu lab scan of a 35mm Portra 400 negative.
And this is my Plustek 8100 scan, converted in Negative Lab Pro (with a few minor lightroom tweaks to add a touch more contrast). It has considerably higher resolution than the lab scan.
And, for the sake of completeness, this is the unedited scan straight from Negative Lab Pro (althougth I obviously made tweaks during the actual conversion process).

However, I’ve spent most of my time playing with a set of Portra 160 negatives that were exposed about a year ago and which I had been unable to get results that I was truly convinced by. Grain2Pixel didn’t give me the results I wanted, nor did Vuescan, and it was my old friend EpsonScan that had given me the best result (although still not good results). So. I’ve re-scanned the negs, got the RAW DNGs, and been messing with them in NLP. The good thing about NLP is that it’s non-destructive. I can un-convert the original file back to a negative and re-convert it using different settings. This gives a lot of scope for experimentation to get a look I’m happy with. I’m still not sure I’m there with this roll of film yet, but I’m happier than I was before.

The first shot on the roll was the one that gave me the most headaches – a photograph of a large gritstone boulder in front of some silver birch trees, lit my bright early morning light. The Epsonscan result looked wrong – all cyan and brown, but not in a subtle way. The first NLP version looked better intitially, although maybe still not right. My second attempt with NLP using a different scanner profile and different tweaks was much better though. Here are the three versions (so far!):

My initial Epsonscan attempt. It looks off. Admitedly, more tweaking in Epsonscan might fix this, but it was beyond my talents and patience.
The first Negative Lab Pro attempt. Better, but still not right.
My latest Negative Lab Pro attempt. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but this one feels much more natural to me.

I think, at the end of the day, I’m never going to get a “perfect” set of colours. There are too many variables at stake. What I need to do is nail a workflow that allows me to get colours that I like on a consistent basis. I think that this is the most difficult part of all, but the journey continues. Now I plan on re-scanning a bunch of different film stocks to see how NLP compares with my earlier scans. Maybe another post at some point…

Bronica ETRSi, Zenzanon 75mm f/2.8 & Kodak Portra 160.

Taken on 6 April 2021

(Coke truck shot with a Canon Sureshot Z135 on Portra 400 in 2019)

Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

North to Hudson Yards

We’ve had a visitor this evening, so just a quick post today. I’ve dug a picture made a couple of years ago during our trip to New York from the archive. It depicts the view north up 10th Avenue from the High Line where it crosses the junction with W 17th Street.

So, New York New York
Great place to make some photos
Maybe I’ll return
?

FILM - North up 10th Avenue

Zeiss Mess-Ikonta 524/16 & Kodak Portra 400.

Taken on 27 May 2019

Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

International Harvester

After yesterday’s Chevy photos, I’ll continue a mini-theme of classic American vehicles, this time an International Harvester pick-up truck. Which I think is an L-Series, but which I am again willing to be corrected on. I believe the tow-truck, Mater, in the Cars movies was based in part on an International Harvester.

Like yesterday’s Chevy, this was photographed on my trip to Mablethorpe. While the Chevy is a permanent feature at the garage where I made the photo, this truck was just parked on the verge on a bend in the road not too far from my destination, so I pulled over and took a few quick shots.

International

Zeiss Mess-Ikonta 524/16 & Kodak Portra 400. Grain2Pixel conversion.

Taken on 11 September 2020

35mm · Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Chevy Sedan Delivery

I made a few pictures of this vintage Chevy on the way to Mablethorpe the other week, some with my Canon Sure Shot Z135, and some with my Zeiss-Mess-Ikonta 524/16. I photographed the same car before when I passed by last year, using the Zeiss on that occasion too, but with some Ektar (and in bright sunshine). The conditions this year were more subdued, the same layer of thin, high cloud that would be present most of the day, obscuring the sun so that much of of the light was diffused, removing much of the contrast. Despite this, I still like how both these images turned out.

I think the car is a Chevy Townsman from the early 50s, but I’m happy to be corrected by someone more knowlegeable about such things.

EDIT: I’ve been informed my fellow blogger, Jim Grey, that it’s actually a Chevrolet Sedan Delivery. Thank you Jim.

Chevy
This is the Z135 shot, taken on Kodak Gold 200, scanned on my Plustek 8100 as a linear tiff and then converted with Photoshop and Grain2Pixel.
Chevrolet Townsman
And this is the Zeiss shot, this time taken on Kodak Portra 400, scanned on my Epson V550 as a linear tiff and converted with Photoshop and Grain2Pixel.

Taken on 11 September 2020

Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Wellies

On the day I started my street-portraits project, I parked my car on a street close to the city centre. My intent had been to use all twelve frames of the Portra 400 for the photographs of strangers I planned to make. However the first thing I saw was this corner cafe and I made a photo of it before I even came close to asking a person for their picture.

I’m wondering if a “corner shops” project might also be fun to do too. It has benefits of not being as stressful to pursue as asking people for their portraits, plus it has that social history angle of recording structures at a moment in time. I always enjoy looking at photographs of how things used to be and this will be my own small addition to the genre.

Obviously, most photographs I make that have recogniseable locations or contemporary objects in the frame do this to some extent anyway, but most of those are made randomly as a result of my particular eye for subject, not part of a more focussed project.

If I do pursue this, it will be concurrent with the street-portraits project, which I fully intend to complete.

Anyway, here’s the sort of thing I would envisage as part of the project…

Wellies

Yashica Mat 124G & Kodak Portra 400.

Taken on 11 July 2020

Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

One hundred people who I don’t know #1-9

This post contains my first set of portraits for my “One-hundred people who I don’t know” project which I first posted about here.

The aim of the project is to make one-hundred portraits, each subject being a person I don’t know, using the same camera and film for consistency of results (and also to allow me to see how I develop and, hopefully, improve through the course of the project).

The camera chosen is my Yashica Mat 124G TLR, and I will be using Kodak Portra 400 film.

My first outing took place last weekend and I was quite nervous about the endeavour. I’m far from an extrovert person and I was concerned as to how people might react when a stranger asked them if he could make their portrait, but the outing resulted in my asking fourteen people, eleven of whom kindly agreed, which I count as a resounding success!

Of the eleven photos, nine of them turned out successfuully enough to form part of the project. Some of these nine are not perfect – the fault of myself for missing focus or firing the shutter at the wrong time to get the picture I’d envisaged – but not so much that I won’t include them. It may be that I set myself stricter technical standards in future, but for now I’m happy with what I achieved.

The two shots that didn’t make the cut were more noticeably out of focus. Again, my fault, not the subjects. My apologies to both!

So, in chronological order, here we go…

#1 – This was the second person I asked on the day but the first to say yes. I like the backdrop of the photo as it does a good job of isolating the person in the frame. I wish I’d gotten his face-mask a little more in frame – a little detail that places the picture in time.

One-hundred people who I don't know #1

#2 – The third person I asked and the second to agree to take part. She was friendly when asked, replying “Well, you don’t know me!” when I explained my aim of photographing one-hundred strangers. She left her mask in place, which I don’t mind at all. As per my comment on the photo above, it’s a good marker of the times we’re currently going through.

One-hundred people who I don't know #2

#3 – This guy was the sixth person asked, although the fifth person I’d photographed as the previous shot was one of those that didn’t quite work out. Spotting the guy’s cameras, I thought that he might be more inclined to let me photograph him, and I was right. He chatted a little about my camera as he has one the same. He also gave me his business card and I’d intended to send him a copy of his photo but I managed to lose the card somewhere. If you’re reading this, my apologies!

One-hundred people who I don't know #3

#4 – The seventh person asked (and the first in an unbroken run of six people who all agreed to participate – everyone else I asked on the day in fact). I felt a little guilty as he was listening to music on a pair of ear-buds that I didn’t notice until he removed one when I asked if I could take his picture.

One-hundred people who I don't know #4

#5 – The first of two street musicians whose portraits I made. I did wonder if these should count for the project – although they were both asked if I could make a picture, and they’re both people I don’t know, the fact that they’re probably photographed by lots of people amde me wonder if this was a bit of a cheat on my part. But, hey, it’s my project so street performers are in (as long as I ask their permission to make a portrait).

One-hundred people who I don't know #5

#6 – This chap was stood outside the entrance to a department store and, while I didn’t ask, I wondered if he might have been waiting for his partner to emerge. He allowed me to make the photograh, but presented me with a profile view. I like this shot a lot – it’s one of the few that show a nice fall-off in depth of field, and it also has the sharpest focus on the subject of all the images I made. I like the profile view too.

One-hundred people who I don't know #6

#7 – I spotted this woman carrying the potted plant and instantly thought that she would make for a nice portrait. The plant would provide an added bit of story to the photograph. I wasn’t, however, willing to ask her to stand still with the heavy-looking plant while I made the picture, and thought I would have to miss the opportunity. So I was quite pleased when she stopped to have a breather by perching the plant atop a roadside bollard as it gave me a chance to ask if she’d take part. I wish I’d made the photo when she was looking towards me, but I’m still very happy with the result. She was the only person on the day who asked if I would be publishing the photos anywhere, so I gave her the address of the blog. If you’re reading this, thank you once more. I really appreciate your letting me make the picture.

One-hundred people who I don't know #7

#8 – Another person who I suspect might have been waiting for his other-half to emerge from a nearby shop. I quite like the central positioning on this one. Because of social-distancing rules, it was difficult to get head-and-shoulders type shots using the Yashica Mat’s fixed 80mm lens, and I’ve ended up with a variety of different stlyes. These compositional choices are things that I hope I will become more proficient with over time.

One-hundred people who I don't know #8

#9 – Another favourite from the set, and the second street musician portrait. I like the sense of action in the picture, as well as the framing of the man and his reflection in the door panels behind him. It’s not completely in focus on his face if you zoom right in, but not so much as to be detrimental to the photograph.

One-hundred people who I don't know #9

The two shots where I missed the mark were of a girl running an ice-cream van. She had a beaming smils and I’m disappointed the photo was a little out of focus. The second was the last person I photographed on the day, another photographer who was walking the length of the city-centre with his camera – a Nikon F5 I think.

All things considered, I think I did ok on this initial outing. I have a lot to learn, but at least I now know that many people are happy to let a stranger make their portrait, which was perhaps the biggest hurdle for me to overcome.

More to come as the project continues!

Yashica Mat 124G & Kodak Portra 400.

Taken on 11 July 2020