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First Impressions of Kodak Ektar

Kodak Ektar 100All images made on medium format Kodak Ektar film
Click any image for a larger view

I've historically been a color reversal film guy. I just haven't shot much with color negative film. I suppose that's a product of being a Galen Rowell fanboy. He was a Kodachrome and Velvia guy, so that's what I became (unfortunately Kodachrome was before my time, though).

But I decided to break out of my shell a little bit and give Kodak Ektar 100 a try because I've read great things about it and I've seen some beautiful colors from it. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest advantage to shooting Kodak Ektar over something like Fuji Velvia is the increased dynamic range and the ability to change the color balance after taking the shot. 

In the digital world, RAW and JPEG files have sometimes been compared to color negatives and color slides. That's because RAW files, like color negative film, have more flexibility in post-production than JPEG files. Much like a RAW file, I can change the "white balance" of my Kodak Ektar shots in the process of scanning. Also, I get a little bit wider range of tonality than on my trusty old Velvia. Velvia (and all color transparency films) are more like JPEGs - what you see is what you get, there's no doing drastic color changes after snapping the shutter, and the dynamic range is more compressed.

Having worked extensively with the "JPEG of film," I thought it was time to try the film equivalent to a RAW file.

So with my first roll of Kodak Ektar color negative film loaded up in my medium format Mamiya RZ67, I headed out to a local park at high noon. My goal was to create ultra-simplistic compositions of the overly-ordered suburban setting that is Irvine, CA. You see, Irvine is a master-plan community in Orange County, CA that might remind some of the Stepford Wives - the neighborhoods and parks are ultra-ordered, ultra-groomed, ultra-matchy, and ultra-artificial. Nice place to raise a kid, but it ain't exactly dripping with culture and variety.

These compositions aren't my usual high-contrast, high-detail landscapes that you might be used to, but that's the point. I wanted simple and ordered compositions to help highlight the artificiality of the community.

All in all, I felt that Kodak Ektar was a perfect match for this shoot. The wider-than-Velvia dynamic range allowed me to keep detail in the harsh shadows of midday and resulted in an overall softer contrast that suited this subject matter well. The vibrant yet soft color palette combined with the wide dynamic range helped me create the painterly look I was after.

I'm still working on testing this film on some of my more typical shoots - vibrant landscape photography - but I think it's safe to say that Kodak Ektar is a superb film that will forever remain in my arsenal of film stocks...well, at least until they stop making it.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

New Work: The Side of the House

Side of the House in IrvineAll Images Made on Ilford Delta 100 Film
With a Mamiya RZ67 Medium Format Camera
Click Any Image to Expand

These pictures may not be what you typically expect from me. I'm most known for my large sweeping landscapes of coastal, desert, and mountain scenics. Most of my photos require long treks or at least moderate hiking to get in to position. But these photos here...they were taken in the side yard of my parents' house in Irvine.

I expect that these photos will not have a big impact on you. They'll probably elicit a "meh" response from a lot of my readers. And I'm fine with that (I can't always create masterpieces!). But these photos mean something to me, so that's why I'm sharing them with you today.

I've often said that it never ceases to amaze me what pictures people like and which ones they won't care about. You've probably experienced this. You have a great, amazing, beautiful photo you took that you just love. You're proud of it. You want to share it. You put it out to the world and the response is, well, deflating. Then some other photo you took that you don't much care for - in fact you almost didn't even post it on your blog - everyone swoons over it. I've sold photos where I'm thinking in my head "Wow, you want that one? That's some of my worst work." But then I try to sell a photo I'm really proud of and it feels like I'm trying to sell snow cones in Minnesota in January. Well I'm guessing these photos will fall in to that category.

I have really fond memories of my parents' home. It's where I grew up. So that alone makes these pictures special to me. But it's more than that. It's not just that it's my parents' home and that I have a lot of memories tied up there, it's more specific than that. I don't know how well I can explain this, but I'll try.

You know how certain times of day at certain locations will create a very specific feeling inside you? It's a feeling you really only get from being in that exact location at that time and it can't be articulated in words. For me, my elementary school at night has a particular feeling to it. It's probably rooted in the evening open house where we all got to run around the school in a very unusual setting - it was at an unusual hour, you could go anywhere, the normal rules and bell schedule weren't in force, and everyone's parents were there. It was so...weird...but somehow exciting.

Los Angeles at sunset, McDonalds just before dawn, my childhood friend Michael's house at high noon on a summer day, my mom's old minivan in a heavy downpour on the way home from school. Each of these time-place settings create a very specific sensation in me that I enjoy.

Well, the backyard and side yard of my parents' house in summer is the end-all be-all for what I'm talking about here. Especially on a warm evening just before sunset on a Sunday...oh man, I'm getting all tingly just thinking about it. I love that feeling. It's indescribable yet incredibly specific. That's why I like these photos. For me, they are snippets of that sensation that I can't put into words. Many people will simply see a boring photo of a fence, but I see one of my most valued emotional responses for which words don't suffice.

It's easy to get caught up trying to make photos that everyone else will love or photos that will get more sales or clients. I'm terrible about that. But it was nice to take some photos for a change that I knew would only matter to me. After all, that's possibly the finest reason you should ever take a photo.

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

New Work & Video: Alabama Hills, Day 2

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Day 2 of my trip to the Alabama Hills Recreation area proved to be a productive one. In between moving my camp and scouting the area, I created 5 photos: 2 4x5 black and white compositions and a few 6x17's. 

My first composition at sunrise started to resemble what I'd originally set out to get on this trip. It was the shot I'd pre-visualized months before, consisting of the Sierra Nevada Mountains basking in the warm pink glow of morning light with the rolling, jumbled-up boulders of the Alabama Hills filling the foreground on a wide 6x17 shot. This image was close, but still not quite there. However, this shot was an important step in the evolution towards what I'd get on the third day, where my pre-visualized composition finally came together as I envisioned.

Please click any of the images in this post for a larger view.

Sunrise on the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaSunrise over the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Fuji Velvia 50 film, 6x17 Format
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My vertical panoramic composition from the morning of Day 2 was one of those last-minute shots. The kind of composition that comes from improvisation. I had no pre-conceived notions of doing a vertical pano like this - it just came together as I watched the light change. If I hadn't been working on a different composition at first light, I would have liked to try this image earlier in the morning. At this late in the sunrise, the blue sky turned the shadows on the foreground rocks too blue for my taste. If it had been earlier, when the light was real pinkish-gold, the color balance between sunlit background and shadowed foreground would jive a little bit better.

Sunrise on the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaMt. Whitney at Sunrise from the Alabama Hills
Fuji Velvia 50 film, 6x17 Format
Click Image for Larger View

As I said in the video above, black and white works much better for the harsh midday light than color film does. Colors just get washed out at this time of day and the shadows are much too harsh for my high-contrast Fuji Velvia 50 film. But truthfully, I'm not entirely blown away with my black and whites from this trip. I want another go at it. There is a lot of potential in this area for great black and white compositions - Ansel Adams proved that long ago - but I just wasn't 100% invested in them on this trip. I guess I was having too much fun with color film. Plus, if I'm honest, the heat in the middle of day was a bit oppressive. Makes me sloppy with my technique and uninvested in my subject matter.

Lone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders in the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaLone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders
Ilford Delta 100 film, 4x5 Format
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Lone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders in the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaLone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders
Ilford Delta 100 film, 4x5 Format
Click Image for Larger View

Sierra Nevada Mountains over the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaSierra Nevada Mountains and the Alabama Hills
Ilford Delta 100 film, 6x17 Format
Click Image for Larger View

I'd like to come back and do some B&W large format in the winter, when the Sierras are blanketed in snow. A stormy, cloudy sky would be nice, too. Good thing this place is only a 5-hour drive away from me. I'm sure I'll be heading back there soon with black and white film on my mind.