Categories: "Landscape Photography" or "Midwestern Landscapes" or "Pictures Of Trees"
Well – not film in general, but the stuff I shipped off while on vacation came back on Monday. It took 6 days to arrive at my destination, but only 3 days to make it back home. Arg –well, at least it made it back.
There are 5 rolls of silver B&W film, and one roll of slide film. With the B&W film I plan to use Rodinal 1:50 for the Efke KB 100 (2 rolls) and Agfa APX 25 (1 roll.) The roll of Tri-X 400 and Plus-X 120 that I bought on site will be souped in D76 1:1. In the case of the Tri-X this is to minimize grain, in the case of the Plus-X its because I haven’t tested it in any other developer. This is the ‘new’ Plus-X – the old stuff I would happily develop in Rodinal.
Here’s a first glimps from the first roll to come out of the developer – Hooker Falls, shot on Efke KB 100. The film workflow is mighty slow – with at least an hour per roll for developing and more time yet for scanning it’s a slow process. In a few days, whatever worthwhile photos I get from the film will be on line.
Again in Michigan, yesterday I made my way back into the Allegan forest. I wanted to catch the final stages of the field of coreopsis off 46th street, and was hoping for a better showing of dragonflies and possibly some Karner Blue butterflies.
When I got beck home one of the things I noticed on the first night was the abundance of fireflies floating around in my yard at night. Maybe it’s just the fetid great lakes climate, but there seems to be many times the insects here than compared to North Carolina.
Arriving in Allegan I was surprised to see that the field I had hoped would still be in bloom was now far past its peak. There were a few coreopsis, no vetch, and just a couple of clumps of butterfly weed dotting the landscape. Unlike past years, there were very few fritillary butterflies – this place is usually swarming with them in June.
I noticed a goldfinch perched on a scrubby oak sapling at the far end of the field, and headed in towards it. Within a few minutes I noted another finch, then another, and still more. As I came up on the end of the field the grass suddenly exploded with gold finches, and I’d estimate a flock of at least 50 burst out of the low vegetation. A few fox sparrows were mixed in with them – it was quite a sight to see those bright yellow birds flying off in such numbers, and I have never seen a concentration of them like that before.
There were dragonflies in the field, and I got a few shots of them and then went off to an area where Karner Blues are locally prevalent. Unfortunately, on this day none were to be found. I headed back to the car and decided to visit the crumbling hunter’s perch that was a subject of one of my very first Holga shots.
The perch is located a few hundred yards into the woods, east of a parking area. A good portion of the walk takes you through an area of oak saplings ranging from 4 to 6 feet tall – the upshot being that you can’t see a darn thing around you as you wander along. I first found this area in early March, when the the trees were bare, and it was an easy place to navigate. But I carelessly wandered in later that spring only to have a few frustrating hours when I couldn't find my way out of the woods.
The perch is decaying. It had bent a lot over the last winter, but not it has straightened out but has rotated about 90 degrees. It remains chained to the tree that supports it, and will no doubt out last me on this earth. I took a few digital IR shots of this place, and some of the adjoining areas – places I've shot before.
I posted a few days ago about travelling in North Carolina. I’ve been home now for a day and have had a chance to sort through my digital images. I’m still waiting for the film I shot (not many rolls) to come through the mail, but for the time being I’m working with purely digital images..
This trip was a lot like the Chicago Trip last October (see Oedipus in Chicago). My wife had a business conference in Asheville, and I tagged along. We extended her trip to allow for a few days of vacation, but for three days at the start of the week I was more or less on my own, exploring the area and looking for photographic opportunities.
I’m not a great traveler and am not skilled at getting into a new area quickly and effectively. Most of my photography is built upon a deep familiarity of the area I’m shooting. I also travel heavy when I shoot locally, taking virtually all my gear with me.
Flying into North Carolina was a whole ‘nother experience. I was confined to bringing only the gear I could carry on an airplane. After much deliberation I wound up purchasing a Lowepro Mini Trekker, and packed it full – bringing one 35mm film body, one Digital SLR, three zooms covering 20 through 200 mm, a 1.4x teleconverter, 50mm f 1.7, 200mm f4 macro, and the X Drive II, batteries, filters, step up rings, GPS, memory cards, and other bits and bobs.
Ultimately, it was a light kit at ~20 lbs. I never used the 200mm macro, 1.4x teleconverter, or the external flash, and scarcely used the 70-200mm f2.8 zoom. So I brought a I fair amount of gear that proved to be unnecessary. The only thing I really regretted leaving behind was a full sized tripod. I brought a small minipod that rises up to about 2 feet, and while it worked well in some situations, a full sized tripod would have been much better.
I really pondered the film vs digital issue for this trip. I knew I would want to photograph landscapes, and I remain convinced that high quality 35mm film will out perform a 6 megapixel DSLR when it comes to landscapes. Better yet would be medium format – but the logistics of transportation really ruled that out.
From what I read, flying with film is questionable. It will be x-rayed, and I worried about fogging. So, I decided to mail the film to the hotel in advance, and ultimately came to think of this trip as a ‘farewell to 35mm film’ tour – I would deliberately try to use up all that 35mm slide film cluttering my freezer.
As Robert Burns put it – "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley".
Arriving at the hotel on Saturday I found – no film. That meant that at best,, the film would arrive Monday afternoon.
That night we went through downtown Asheville, which is a hopping town, ate good food, wandered all over, and used the GPS to find the car and drive back down to Hendersonville where we were staying. I missed film at this juncture of the trip, since I would have loved to use Tri-X and a wide angle to shoot while walking around. As it was, I was able use the *ist-D at ISO 3200 to get and interesting shot of a church – hey, perhaps my first successful ghost photo (look out, Ted Serios, here I come...)
The next day we drove around in the rental car, and learned that roads in mountainous areas are not laid out on a logical grid (or even semi-logical wheel and spoke) setup – but rather followed the lay of the land.
We stopped at a parking area at the Pisgah National Forest, but as we were preparing to start hiking along the small creek there a local gentleman came up and told us that we really shouldn’t be there. He had worked on the movie “Last of the Mohicans” and told us we needed to find the waterfalls shot in that film. He hadn’t been to the area for a while, but told us in general terms how to get there. It was the Dupont Forest, named after the Dupont factory that was built in the heart of it. He told us the plant made X-Ray film and was built there fore the purity of the water in the local springs. But some German company bought them out a while back.
We followed his directions, and found well marked roads leading back to the Dupont forest. There was an Agfa Plant along the way, and ultimately we stopped at the Hooker Falls / Triple Falls parking area.
This proved to be my photographic focus for much of this trip. The area reminded me a lot of Michigan’s western upper peninsula (though the mountains in North Carolina dwarf the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan,) On Sunday Pam and I visited the falls, and I took some digital snap shots, nothing more.
After that we found the Blue Ridge Parkway, and spent much of the day driving along it. I like driving and it was a fun drive running along the twists and curves. Again, I took several digital snap shots along the way.
One of the great challenges of photography is that no matter what subject you are shooting, you usually wind up shooting something you’ve seen in other photographs. And usually you have seen the cliché’ and hackneyed shots, simply as a matter of sheer probability.
When I come to a new subject, or a new locale, my first impulse is to recreate the shots I’ve seen of it before. And so with the water falls and also running along the Blue Ridge Parkway, my first reaction was to mimic the shots I’d seen of the same subjects. Work on layering of the mountains in the mist, work on catching the waterfalls in soft light, with long exposures resulting in smooth, silky water.
I think it's only natural to want to recreate the images you’ve seen before, and it’s a step in the creative process. The trap is that once you get that shot that is as good as the others you’ve seen, there is a temptation to stop and rest. You have achieved a goal and feel like your work is over – but in reality your work has just begun. Now that you have duplicated the shots already taken, what new thing can you contribute to interpreting the subject?
Come Monday morning I returned to the Hooker Falls parking area, and re-shot the Hooker Falls in the misty morning light. Without film I shot entirely digitally, feeling limited only by the lack of a true wide angle lens (my 20mm lens equates to a 30mm on the digital SLR.)
After a few hours at the falls I went to the North Carolina Arboretum, hoping to shoot some insect macros. I had a pleasant but unproductive walk though the trails there, and called it day.
Arriving at the hotel I learned that the film still had not arrived. I’m reluctant to buy more 35mm film, but decided that I really wanted to shoot the falls with a classic, true silver, B&W. After dinner I dragged my wife from store to store, till at last we found an Ekarts drug store that had one roll (24 exposure) of Plus-X and a few rolls of Tri-X. Great! I bought the Plus-X and three rolls of Tri-X – all the while ruing the absence of my film shipment, chock full of Efke R100, my last roll of Agfapan APX 25, and lots of Adox 400 and color slide emulsions.
That night I also decided to clean the sensor on the *ist-D, and in a move that defies logic, I disabled noise reduction on the camera in the process.
The next day I again headed out to the Dupont forest. I made a bee line to the triple falls – though the mile long hike up the mountain, even on a gentle trail, took a while.
It was a brilliant clear day, and by the time I got to the top of the falls the sun was full on them. I shot most of the roll of Plus-X, hoping to control the contrast through development and scanning. We’ll see how that works out.
After that I ran up to the covered bridge at the top of the falls, and found it to be unremarkable. Then I headed back down to the middle and lower falls, shooting the last of the Plus-X and also a roll of Tri-X. Here the sun was not yet hard on the water, so I have high hopes for the outcome.
By the time I got back down to the parking lot, the trails were full of people, the streams were full of swimmers, and cruel brutal sun was beaming down.
I was hopeful that the B&W film shot would come out with a sense of classic simplicity that I want for this subject (and as of this writing I remain hopeful – since the film has not yet returned to be developed.) But I also felt a sense of frustration. Here it was – noon on my third day in the area and the best I had managed to achieve was to duplicate the shots of ump-teen other photographers who had wandered through here before.
The night before I had watched Apocolyse Now on the hotel cable channels. The lyric from the Doors song during the into - ‘break on through to the other side’ - kept echoing through my mind.
Thinking of the images from “Last of the Mohicans” sitting by the waterfalls, I was lost in the romance of the pristine natural setting. Looking at the brutal late morning sunlight, I realized that one option was open – infrared. So I set up the *ist-D for digital infared and started shooting.
After what I thought was a productive morning, now early afternoon, I called it day for shooting. Back in the hotel room in Hedersonville, the phone range at around 3:30 pm.
The desk clerk was his usual professional self: “Mr Cassino, the film has arrived.” He said it like Mission Control announces the safe landing of a space shuttle. I picked the box and realized how absurd I had been in my planning to shoot up my film on this trip – here was a hefty box filled with dozens of rolls of film. What was I thinking? Oh well, I began to doubt that I would shoot any of it at all.
My feelings only got worse when I looked at the digital infrared shots and realized that I had disable noise reduction. With this feature enabled the camera takes a long exposure, and then retakes the exposure with the shutter down. It compares the two, and subtracts from the original exposure any hot pixels or other noise that is on the second exposure. Since shooting with the IR filter results in very long exposures – 2 to 8 seconds at f 16 in full sun, at ISO 1600 – this is an important tool to getting a clean shot. While the original images are probably salvagable with post exposure noise reduction software, I was kicking myself for turning the noise reduction feature off.
So now I felt doubly conflicted - I wanted to properly re-shoot the digital IR shots, but I really wanted to shoot the waterfalls with film.
So on Wednesday I headed out and tried to tackle both objectives. I again went to the Dupont Forest, this time shooting Hooker falls on my last roll of Agfa APX 25, and then some of the rapids upstream on Efke RB100. As the morning progressed and the sun grew more brilliant and direct, I switched over to digital IR and attempted to reproduce the shots I had taken before, as well as shooting new settings.
Pam’s session ended at midday that day, so after the morning shoot we went out again along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here again I shot digital infrared. Because of the long exposure times, I needed to use either the mini tripod, or rest the camera on a fence post or sign post while shooting.
On Thursday we did tourist fun things, and then on Friday devoted the day to driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We picked a good time – it was hot and hazy in the morning, but Thunderstorms rolled in in the afternoon.
We watched the storms roll in from a mountain top overlook, eating the picnic lunch we brought in the car, as it shook in the wind and rain lashed the windows. After an hour of intense storm activity, the weather cleared, and we drove along and watched the mists and clouds rolled in and out of the valleys below.
Yesterday I ventured into the Allegan Forest. With 80 square miles of mixed fields, woods, wetlands, and oak savannas, it’s a great nature area. It’s the home of many species of wildlife, and white tailed deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and numerous birds abound.
On the flip side, it’s a somewhat unusual area – not nearly as pristine or wild as many other parks or forests. I’ve never researched the history of the area, but I’ve been told it is a patchwork of old farms and homesteads that failed in the early 20th century due to the poor, sandy soil. At any rate, you’d be hard pressed to find a large, old tree anywhere in all the 50,000 acres (at least I haven’t found any yet.) Instead you wll find acre after acre of mid sized trees, clear cut areas with barriers for hunters, remnants of hunting blinds and perches, and omnipresent spent shells, beer cans, and animal bones.
It was slim pickings for wildflowers yesterday, though I was happy to find the ruined foundation of a small building tucked up on the top of hill near Swan Creek. That kept me busy for a while, working the area with the Pentax 6x7 and a roll of old Tri-X 320. After hiking around Swan Creek and going on a few wild turkey chases (still looking for a good shot of one of those guys) I headed down to the Ottawa Marsh, looking for wildflowers. While the fields and oak savannas provide excellent habitat for late spring Lupine and summer Coreopsis, its slim pickings for hepatica and other wood land wildflowers (at least compared to areas about 30 miles south.) One area that does have some interesting wildflowers is the Ottawa Marsh. There, along the edges of the marsh, I found some white trout lily, the first shots of these plants I’ve gotten in my collection. Shooting them was a challenge – high gusty winds and brutal made it doubly awkward to hold a diffuser in place and get a shot of the flowers in those still moments between wind gusts. I’m not crazy about the photos of the lilies – I should of gotten a better angle on them in order to bring out the curve in the plant’s stem. But it was still a good day for getting a new subject, and reconnecting (after a long winter) to a great shooting area.
Technical details – Foundation Landscape taken with Pentax 6x7, SMC 67 55mm f4, TXP 320 developed in Rodinal, 1:50. White Trout Lily taken with *ist-D digital, A* 200mm macro f4, RAW mode.