Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos

CONTACT
 

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 1

Photo a Day Challenge - Day 1 on Ilford Delta 100 FilmDoor, Window & Shadows - Irvine Ranch Historic Park
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 3:43pm
Click to Enlarge

I'm not the kind of photographer that takes pictures every day. I've gone whole months not taking a single photo. I tend to be more of the "I'm in picture-taking mode right now or I'm not" kind of photographer. I plan trips to be my designated picture-taking time, but you're unlikely to find me just casually taking pictures near home. I'm sure this is largely due to the fact that I prefer photographing natural landscapes but I live in Orange County, which is the poster child for destruction of open spaces and wildlands.

But recently, in the interest of expanding my creativity and challenging my skills as a photographer, I decided to give myself a "Photo a Day Challenge" wherein I had to take at least one picture every day for a month. But it wasn't as easy as take a picture a day and that's that. It was a challenge because I gave myself 3 strict rules to follow during this challenge. Those 3 rules were:

1. Take at least 1 photo a day, but no more than 4

Taking a photo a day is easy, but limiting yourself to just a few is tough. I wanted to limit the number of photos I took each day because I feel that the limitless nature of digital photography can make some photographers sloppy and uncreative. Some may disagree with that last statement and point out that digital has opened new worlds of creativity for shooters. Yes, but at the same time, how many hours have been wasted (by me alone) taking mediocre pictures because "hey it's free to take a digital photo, so why not?" I don't know about everyone else, but for me, if I know I can only take 3 or 4 photos, I'm going to really try and make each photo count. I won't waste time trying to make a lame subject work. If I limited myself to no more than 4 photos a day, I'd be forced to get creative rather than "spray and pray" that one turns out.

Now to be honest, I broke this rule a couple times but I generally held pretty strong to it. When I went to Joshua Tree National Park for one of the days, I allowed myself to take more pictures because the creative juices were really flowing that day and it was a unique circumstance. But outside of a couple of exceptions, I made sure I didn't take more than 4 photos in a day (usually no more than 2 actually).

And why 4 photos? Well, because on a single roll of medium format film, I can get 4 photos of 6x17 format. So in the event I wanted to do a panoramic, I wanted to give myself the option to finish off the entire roll on account of the fact that my panoramic camera is kind of a pain in the ass to leave unused film in.

2. Limit my tools to only medium format black and white film

As with the previous rule, this was in the interest of limiting my tools and options so as to encourage creativity. I'm a firm believer that being forced to work within limited confines often times brings out the best in artists. This idea was borne from years of teaching and studying other photographers' work. I've seen so many students come through my doors that have every possible tool available. They have money to burn and every lens you could want, but their photos are nothing unique. The photos might be well-executed and technically perfect, but nothing creative. While at the same time, I look at some shooters on the internet with no more experience or training who are getting absolutely phenomenal shots with just an old 35mm film camera and a 50mm lens.

Of course, some people are simply more talented artists than others and the tools used are not the issue. But I do believe that if you limit the tools available to an artist, he/she will be forced to turn on that right side of the brain. I definitely found this to be true in myself.

The reason I chose medium format film is two-fold. First, I just enjoy medium format film. I like the high-resolution, the detail, the camera, and its versatility. But I also liked that this would keep my shooting easier than 4x5 large format but more limited than 35mm film. And I went with black and white film because I felt this would further push my creative abilities. I'm not a veteran of B&W. Color is where I'm comfortable, so I thought it would be good to break out of my comfort zone.

And why film over digital? Come on...do you really have to ask?

3. Practice photographic celibacy

Photographic celibacy is an idea I stumbled upon from Cole Thompson (link). Cole Thompson is a very talented fine art B&W digital photographer who has the controversial idea that studying other photographers' work is not always healthy for artists. He talks about how he decided years ago to stop viewing other photographers' work in the interest of keeping his creative juices clean and untainted by subconscious copy-catting. This idea flies in the face of traditional thinking that one gets inspiration from viewing the work of your peers.

I tend to agree with Cole.

As I read Cole's thoughts on photographic celibacy, I realized that he was articulating exactly what I should have started doing years ago. I can't tell you how many times I've come across another photographer's work and spent hours examining their photos only to find myself bummed out and copying their style. I'm sure this isn't the case for everybody, but when I see another photographer's work that I feel is better than mine, I get a deep sense of discouragement and an irrational urge to start doing what they're doing. The ironic thing is that Cole Thompson's work was the most recent example of this. Thank God I stumbled upon his article on photographic celibacy while I was bumming out over his photos.

So for this photo a day challenge, I decided to practice photographic celibacy. No viewing other photographers' websites, no browsing Instagram or Flickr, no reading photography magazines or books. Of course, I made an exception for reviewing my students' assignments, but outside of that, it was total detachment from the photography community.

This rule of the challenge was without question the most refreshing and beneficial aspect of it all. I have now decided to adopt this idea permanently and I think it's the healthiest change I've ever made in my photography.

But I would like to put one modification on Cole's advice, if I may be so presumptuous. I would advise that this practice of photographic celibacy only be undertaken in the advanced stages of one's photography. When starting out, I agree with the status quo that studying other artists' work is important for inspiration and growth. Whether it's other photographers, painters, or sculptors, I think the stimulation in the beginning of your photographic career is vital. But once you get past that initial stage of copy-catting (it's taken me 13 years to get out of that stage), photographic celibacy may bring a new level of purity to your creativity.

Over the next 30 days, I will be posting my photos from my 30-day Photo a Day Challenge. I'll try to post a photo a day so that you can follow along chronologically just as I took them.

About This Photo

At top is the first photo from the series. I made this photo on Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 3:43pm. My exposure settings were 1/125 at f/16 using my Mamiya RZ67 camera on Ilford Delta 100 film, no filters. This door is part of an old building at a park near my home in Irvine called the Irvine Ranch Historic Park. I've driven by this park nearly every week for the past 20 years, but have never ventured in. It took this photo a day challenge to get me inside and check out the scenery.

Boy am I glad I visited, because this has become my favorite place in Irvine. Why? Because it's one of the only places left in Irvine where historic buildings still stand. This park has several old buildings, a barn, and tons of appeal for me as a photographer. I love old doors and old architecture. Old buildings like this may be commonplace in other parts of the country, but in Orange County, they simply don't exist.

I returned to this park several times throughout the course of this challenge due to its proximity and photo ops. I enjoyed escaping the suburban culture for just a bit to photograph these magnificent buildings.

Orange County Beaches: Cress Beach at Sunset

Orange County Beaches - Cress Street BeachCress Street Beach at Sunset
Fuji Velvia 50 Film - f/32 at 1 minute
Click to Enlarge

I complain a lot about Orange County for many reasons, but one thing I can't complain about is its beaches. Orange County beaches are gorgeous. Okay, okay...maybe not compared to the central coast of California. But for how accessible they are, they offer up some pretty great scenery. The only problem with them is the same problem with all of Orange County: crowds. You'll never find yourself all alone on a beach in OC (unless you sneak in to the state park at night).

The crowds make shooting panoramas at Orange County beaches a little tricky. With such an incredibly wide view, it's tough to avoid buildings, people, and foot prints. Compound that with trying to keep sea spray off my filters, sand getting in my bag, a rapidly dropping sun, and I've got myself a recipe for frustration. But luckily, experience is on my side with years of beach shooting behind me. I still sometimes botch a beach shoot now and then, but I'd say my batting average is decent enough.

I made this image on Fuji Velvia 50 film. For those unfamiliar, Fuji Velvia 50 is the gold standard for high-saturation landscape work. The colors are so rich that it can often make the scene look better than real life. It's contrasty and colorful - perfect for a sunset. But it's also a royal pain in the ass to work with. The contrast is so high that your exposure has to be spot on. This ain't no RAW file. If you make an error in your exposure by 2/3 of a stop, you're done.

But that's not what bothers me. What's really tough is how this film behaves at long exposures. It has some serious reciprocity failure issues. Reciprocity failure is a phenomenon where certain exposure times don't result in the expected exposure and color.

For instance, let's say you expose Velvia 50 at f/2.8 at 1/2 second and you get a correct exposure with accurate colors. Well, an equivalent exposure would be f/16 at 15 seconds. So you'd think, I'll just plug in f/16 and 15 seconds and I'll get the same exact exposure as before. That is how it works on digital cameras, after all. But because of reciprocity failure, the film doesn't behave the same way at 15" as it does at 1/2 exposures. Basically, the film doesn't soak up light with the same efficiency and the photo comes out darker than expected. To remedy this issue, you have to add exposure to that 15" shutter in order to compensate for the film's failure to soak up light. There are tables and calculations to help figure out the adjusted exposure time for each film (there's a great iPhone app called "Reciprocity Timer" that I use). For Velvia 50, a calculated exposure time of 15" actually needs a shutter speed of 26"! If your calculated shutter speed was 30", you'd actually need to shoot it at 1 minute!

But it doesn't end there. Aside from the adjustments you must make to the calculated exposure, the colors come out funky too! Anything longer than about 1" will result in color shifts. Velvia 50 happens to shift towards a magenta tone when used at ultra-long exposures. That's why the photo at top exhibits a purplish color cast. For some shooters, this color shift alone would be reason enough to not take the shot. But I'm a little more laid back with these things. I say let the color shift happen. Let it ride and see how it turns out. I think it creates a cool mood here. I'd say the composition is decent, but there are certainly flaws with this shot and a few things I would have done differently. Not one for the wall, but that's alright. They can't all be masterpieces.

Velvia 50 is like that super attractive but ultra-high maintenance girlfriend that you just can't break up with. Velvia 50, I love you, but sometimes you're a real pain in the ass.

New Landscape Photography: San Onofre Beach at Sunset


Sunset at San Onofre Beach

Sunset at San Onofre Beach
4" at f/25, Fuji Velvia 50, Lee 3-stop grad ND + Lee 1-stop grad ND
Click Image for Larger View

Last month a friend of mine and I went for a sunset shoot at San Onofre Beach in Southern CA. I'm generally a "lone wolf" when it comes to doing landscape photography because I enjoy the solitude, but Eric and I are very much simpatico when it comes to style, methodology, and philosophy (check out Eric Bryan's amazing photography at ericbryan.net).

San Onofre Beach is unlike any other in Southern California. You won't find long stretches of white sandy beaches here. Much of the beach is riddled with smooth, round boulders the size of...uh, I dunno, like a volleyball but a little smaller. I clearly know nothing about sports...

But anyway, this beach is gorgeous and generally empty. Not exactly easy to navigate this rocky shore, but the views are unbeatable. And looking inland, the shore is flanked by some stately red-sand cliffs that are quite breathtaking under sunset light.

On this shoot, I opted for the wide 6x17 format using Fuji Velvia 50 film. Now I gotta be honest...the photos are a little too dark for my liking. It's partly that I just overestimated how dark I wanted it to be, but here's the thing about Velvia 50 film: it's rated at ISO 50, but it really isn't 50. Based on my experiments and analyzation, I need to rate it more like ISO 33 or 25 in order to get accurate metering. I did ISO 33 here. I should have done 25.

And here's the other thing: my Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens exhibits some serious light falloff at the edges. Every wide angle lens on 6x17 format does. And I didn't have a center ND filter for this evening's shoot. That meant the edges came out much darker than I anticipated. The center of the frame looks spot on in regards to exposure, but the edges came out too dark. And since Velvia 50 is so contrasty, that 1 to 1-1/3 stops of light falloff at the edges looks major.

Sunset at San Onofre Beach

Post-Sunset at San Onofre Beach
20" at f/22, Fuji Velvia 50, Lee 3-stop grad ND
Click Image for Larger View

I overestimated on my metering, I used a little too much split ND, I should have rated the film at ISO 25, I needed a center ND filter. Excuses excuses. Oh well. I'll do better next time. And I just picked myself up a sweet center ND filter off eBay to remedy the light falloff issue. It was a steal at $275. Center ND filters are ridiculously expensive. They usually run about $400-$500 used.

The composition could use some improvement, too. But it's time to stop flogging myself. The photos are actually pretty solid. I'm happy with them. It's just that inner photography teacher coming out of me.

The shot at top was made right as the sun dipped to the horizon. The second image was a little after sunset. Please click the images for larger views. These images are pointless unless you can see all the details.