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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 2

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 2 - Palm Trees on Ilford Delta 100 FilmPalm Trees and Sky - Irvine Ranch Historic Park
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 3:06pm
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With my discovery of the Irvine Historic Park on day 1 of my Photo A Day challenge, I decided to return for day 2 to see what else I could find. Towards the rear of the property there is a stretch of driveway leading to what I'm assuming was the once-impressive entry gate to this homestead. Lining either side of the curved driveway is a colonnade of evenly spaced palm trees. After failing to find a decent shot of the architecture (which was and is my main attraction to this place), I started feeling out some compositions on these trees.

I circled the trees looking up and down for the right angle. The light was harsh on account of the clear midday sun but I knew this would be suitable for the high-contrast monochrome look I was after. I wanted to highlight the repetition in these perfectly spaced palm trees in some way. With my lens pointed straight up using my camera handheld, I snapped the shutter at 1/250 of a second at f/11. No filters were used. The image was made on Wednesday, August 14th at 3:06 pm.

I think this is the kind of photo that would be utterly mediocre in color. The blue sky was nice, but the desaturated nature of black and white takes the viewer a little further out of reality. For me, this photo has a vibe of 1920's Hollywood and Los Angeles that I can't quite articulate better than the photo does.

By day 2 of this little photo a day challenge, I realized that this exercise was already resulting in photos that I never would have taken otherwise. Clearly the challenge was working. Plus, it gave me a great excuse to get out and see the neighborhood, revealing hidden gems like this that I normally wouldn't have stumbled upon.

Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego ZooFemale Jaguar, Nindiri, at the San Diego Zoo
35mm Ilford Delta 400 film pushed 1 stop
Click Any Image for a Larger View

I'm a cat person through and through. I like cats. I "get" cats. And I'm absolutely enthralled with big cats. So when my girlfriend and I planned a trip to the San Diego Zoo, I made sure to stop by all the big cat exhibits.

Now I don't consider myself a wildlife photographer. I don't know why I'm not that attracted to photographing animals, but one thing that does light my fire is black and white wildlife photography. I mean just look at the stunning work of Nick Brandt (check out Artsy's Nick Brandt Page) or Andy Biggs. And oh man would I love to photograph wildlife with my medium format camera and a 110mm lens wide open to f/2.8 on some B&W film. Hey, a guy can dream...

I'm certainly not on the same level as Nick Brandt or Andy Biggs - they are masters of their craft - but I thought I'd do some casual black and white wildlife photography at the San Diego Zoo to try my hand at it.

I brought my 35mm camera and a single roll of Ilford Delta 400 film. I didn't take a single shot almost the entire day. Fences, mesh screens, dirty glass, and ugly, ugly light all gave me good reason to leave the camera in my backpack. But we eventually made our way to the African Rocks exhibit where we watched a gorgeous jaguar named Nindiri eat her lunch.

This cat was just stunning. Her smooth coat dotted with jet black spots, I concluded, is the most beautiful of any animal I'd ever seen. And lucky for me, her favorite eating spot was right up near the glass in a dark enclosure with soft light pouring in from the side. Beautiful animal + beautiful light = Nick's breaking out the camera for the first time all day. And unlike many of the other animals we saw, Nindiri was kind enough to face the camera.

It was a very tough shooting situation. It was ultra dim lighting that was repeatedly blocked by other patrons. And never mind their annoying red AF assist beams and on-camera flash killing the light I was trying to capture.

My ISO 400 film didn't give me a shutter speed nearly fast enough. It came out to something like 1/4 of a second, and I had no tripod. So decided to push my film 1 stop to ISO 800. For those of you unfamiliar, pushing film is a process wherein you use the film at an ISO rating higher than what the canister says, then just develop it like it's a higher ISO film. The result is a higher working ISO which allows for faster shutter speeds. The trade-off is that it results in more pronounced grain and exaggerated contrast.

Higher ISO, lower image quality. That old story...

But I was willing to make that tradeoff because the high grain can actually look kind of cool, and this was really my only option to get the shutter speed faster. So with my film pushed to ISO 800, my shutter speed increased all the way to 1/8. Still really damn slow. I had to just do my best with this slow shutter. I turned on image stabilizer, squatted down low, braced myself against a pillar and the glass, held my breath, and waited for moments when Nindiri was relatively still.

Many of the photos came out blurry from her movement, but I'm happy to say that no picture was ruined from camera shake. That's what you call a steady hand...

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Oh, and I got a couple pictures of the meerkats on our way out:

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Meerkats at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Meerkats at the San Diego Zoo

Old Barn in Black and White

Snow on an old barn in Utah - Ilford Delta 100 Film

I took a trip to Utah recently to visit family and managed to get some photos while I was there. I brought only my 35mm Canon EOS 1V, a single 24-105mm lens, a few rolls of Ilford Delta 100 black and white film, and my trusty filters.

My aunt owns an amazing old barn out there that is just dripping with character. The spaces between the wood slats stream beautiful mottled light into the dark interior, the green painted wood exterior is weathered to a gorgeous textured patina, and the tool shed is jam packed with rusty old tools, spare parts, and farming implements.

The place is so stunning that my aunt rents it out for weddings and photo shoots, and she's booked all the way out to September 2013. She also sells seeds, posts gardening tips, and is basically a non-profit animal shelter. Okay, she's not an official non-profit, but at no small expense to herself, she houses, feeds, and cares for just about any animal the dregs of society will drop on her doorstep - and a lot of them do. She does this without complaints and without ever asking for a nickel. Check her out at Green Barn Gardens and support her if you like supporting those who selflessly care for neglected animals.

But anyway, I was like a kid in a candy store photographing this place. I would have been thrilled to spend days shooting it. Seriously. There were endless photo ops. Especially with the fresh snowfall from the night before, the contrast was just superb.

Thankfully, I made the right prediction that black and white film was the way to go on this subject matter. I developed the film myself, which was fun, and really, I just love the look of true B&W film. I think it looks so much better than any Photoshop, SilverFX imitation. I wish I could have had my 4x5 large format camera with me, but alas, the restraints of time and air travel made 35mm the only logical choice.

But I'll stop talking and just let the pictures speak for themselves. Click any image for a larger version. More pictures from this location coming soon.

Snow on an old barn in Utah - Ilford Delta 100 Film

Interior of an old barn in Utah - Ilford Delta 100 Film

Interior of an old barn in Utah - Ilford Delta 100 Film

Interior of an old barn in Utah - Ilford Delta 100 Film

Reflections in old barn window, Utah - Ilford Delta 100 Film