Dedicated to Light Painting Photography

Posts tagged ‘shooting film’

Cliff at Bombo

Basalt Cliff at Bombo NSW

It might look like daylight, but this two-minute exposure of an abandoned quarry on the South Coast of New South Wales was made about 40 minutes after sunset. I light painted the rock-face and foreground grass. Later when I enlarged the film frame, I became fascinated with the feathery look of the distant wave action.

These days, when I mention to people that I shoot on film, I usually get one of two reactions: either people are incredulous that I still use “old” technology; or there’s a vacant look (particularly from people under 25) as they try to fathom how this ancient medium works. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to turn back time, nor deny the fantastic advantages of digital photography. I enjoy using my DSLR as well as my digital compact. But I am of an age that knows and enjoys both worlds – digital and analogue. And for me, light painting on film is magic. It may be old magic but it’s still magic!

Ancient Pepper Tree

130-Year-Old Pepper Tree at Pokolbin NSW

The Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, is renowned as a historic wine-growing region.  This old tree with its tortured trunk grows beside one of the original family vineyards. Light painted during an eight-minute exposure on 120 Fuji T64.  

Here are the reasons I light paint on film:

1. For me, film is best suited to long exposure photography

My exposures are in minutes, not seconds. It’s not unusual for me to have the shutter open for eight or more minutes while I move around in front of the camera “painting” selectively with my torch (flashlight). This is how I produce my location light paintings, like the series, Landscapes at Dusk.

My difficulty with digital cameras is that long exposures and high ISO produce “noise” (random bright pixels) in the image because of the electronics involved. The longer the exposure and the higher the ISO, the more noise is generated. This is why most digital cameras don’t offer more than 30 seconds as a maximum shutter setting. And often, noise reduction (NR) software is required to reduce the digital noise that a camera generates.

The most effective digital noise reduction occurs in-camera using the manufacturer’s proprietary NR software. However applying NR while shooting in the field effectively doubles the exposure time – so a three-minute exposure becomes six minutes as the software works to cancel out the digital noise.

This significant time delay may not matter if you have all night to shoot, but when I’m light painting at dusk, my ideal working time is the 15-minute period between the sky being too bright and the night sky being too dark to register on my low ISO film. I don’t have time to wait for a digital camera to apply NR. I want to produce three or four time exposures of a scene before the dusk sky fades to black. So I’m chasing the diminishing skylight by increasing my time exposures – something film does very well.

Reaching Over, Angophora, Bouddi NPAngophora – Reaching Over

After I set up this camera angle and waited for dusk to darken, I realised a full moon was rising behind me and illuminating the scene. I decided to limit my time exposures to 60 seconds and light paint quickly so the moonlight didn’t affect the shot.   

2. I shoot film because I love the look of it

There are few things more exciting (or at times terrifying) than spreading a roll of processed 120 size transparencies on a lightbox and seeing your triumphs or your mistakes up close through a viewing loupe. With reversal stock like Fuji Velvia or Fuji T64, there is very little latitude in exposure – your image either looks perfect or depressingly unusable.

When I first began light painting flowers in the late 1990s, I was shooting on 35mm film. Digital photography was in its infancy and at the time few digital cameras could match the quality of 35mm film so I continued working with my Pentax camera and macro lens, trying to perfect my use of the Hosemaster Light Painting System.

StrelitziaStrelitzia

This Bird of Paradise image is a wonderful example of the precise lighting you can achieve with the handheld, fibre-optic light source that is the hallmark of the Hosemaster Light Painting System. Shot on 35mm Fuji Velvia in 1999.

It is amazing to look back and realise that just 20 years ago the best quality photographic images were still being produced on medium and large format transparency film. I remember visiting my mentor, Robert Clark, a professional photographer who was shooting food shots for a popular cookbook series throughout the 1990s. I wanted to see Robert at work in the studio because I was thinking of upgrading from 35mm to medium format. Robert was shooting with a Fujifilm GX680 camera. The 6cm x 8cm format produced images five times the size of a 35mm frame. This outfit looked ideal for my floral portraiture, so I bought a new GX680 with a 125mm lens, a second-hand Gitzo tripod, a professional light meter and my first roll of 120 Fuji Velvia film.

I set the camera up in my “studio” (our garage without the car), borrowed a neighbour’s hanging orchid, switched on the Hosemaster and produced my first floral portrait on 120 film. I was hooked! The quality was astounding. Decades later, I still get excited every time that camera shutter clicks.

 Orchid -- Stanhopea Tigrina

Stanhopea Tigrina

This stunning orchid originates from Mexico. What makes it unusual is the way the flowers come from the bottom of the plant. In this particular case, the flower spike emerged through a hanging basket. Initially it had two capsicum-shaped bulbs that gradually opened out to reveal these amazing flowers. Its strong perfume reminded me of vanilla. This is one of my first images shot on the GX680 in December 1999.  

3. I enjoy the level of technology developed in this camera system

The GX680 is a remarkable camera — a real studio workhorse that produces quality images (6×8 colour transparencies, in my case). This camera system offers 15 superb prime lenses. When one of these lenses is mounted on the camera’s front bellows, there are additional movements available like swing, tilt, shift, rise and fall that increase the apparent depth of an object – an extremely useful facility when shooting close-ups of flowers!

My Fujifilm GX680 Camera with a Fujinon 65mm f.5.6 lens

I use the 65mm for all my landscape shots. The lens itself is an absolute monster, weighing almost 1.2kg. In this photo the lens is not extended, so the bellows are not apparent. The device connected to the camera is a remote release that has been customised — the silver toggle switch was added to change the camera operation from B (Bulb) to T (Time) function. This allows me to make manual time exposures of any duration. 

Although the GX680 is a motor drive SLR camera, its controls are mostly manual. There is no autofocus or true auto-exposure. So time and care need to be taken when setting up and shooting. It’s very hands-on. Each roll of 120 film has to be threaded onto a film cassette. This is inserted into a film holder, which is then attached to the back of the camera. I manually focus the lens, then use a hand-held light meter to calculate the exposure.

Of course, what’s also essential is professional film stock. Fortunately Fuji still manufactures 120 colour transparency films that I love to use. For my studio floral portraits I use Fuji Velvia. The outdoor work like Landscapes at Dusk requires a film matched to my tungsten torch (flashlight), so I use Fuji T64.

Unfortunately Fuji stopped manufacturing T64 some years ago. I still have a few rolls left in my freezer but once that supply runs out I will have to move on to Fuji Provia, with an 80A filter on the lens to balance for my tungsten torchlight.

An Angel VisitsAn Angel Visits (from the series, “Heaven on Earth”)

During a 60-second time exposure, I light painted both sides of these statues in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney. I was so moved by the poignancy of this angelic embrace that I decided to begin a new light painting theme — angel statues. Shot on 120 Fuji T64.

4. I like the enlargements produced from film

For a long time, digital photography could not match the size and quality of a 120-film frame enlarged to its maximum. When one of my 6cm x 8cm frames is scanned at 3200 pixels per inch, a huge 465Mb file is produced. Few digital cameras come close to that file size. And if they do, I can’t afford them.

To date, the biggest enlargements I’ve had printed are 102 cm x 73 cm (or 40 in x 28 in). These archival inkjet prints look fantastic and validate my move to medium format.

Rose - David Austin's Sharifa Asma

Rose – Sharifa Asma

When a friend of mine first saw this image she said to me, “It reminds me of a woman. It’s so sensual.” Certainly I wanted this to be an intimate portrait, but more than that, I wanted the viewer to be enthralled by the translucent beauty of this classic flower by the English Rose breeder, David Austin. Shot on 120 Provia 100F in 2000.

5. I shoot film because I have the time

I don’t have the delivery pressures of most professional photographers. Compared with digital photography, shooting medium format film is a slower process: to set up; to expose; to process; to scan; to post-produce.

My method of light painting is a slower process too, particularly when I’m working outdoors. I arrive at location an hour before sunset. Usually I’ve already recced the area. I scout for the best angle, set up the tripod and lock down the shot. I usually shoot just one set-up per night because I need to wait for the crucial lighting balance between the fading dusk sky in the background and my light painting of the foreground subject.

So there’s lots of waiting, and thinking while I rehearse my lighting sequence. And when I do shoot, the exposures are long – up to ten minutes if I am light painting a large area.

I enjoy shooting on film. It may be old technology. It may even be endangered. But as long as it is available (and there is a lab to process it), I’m happy!

Most of my light paintings are available as limited edition, archival prints (see the menu heading — Prints).  My watermark does not appear on purchased prints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is it about flowers that intrigue us? Is it their intricate shapes and patterns, or their incredible variety? Is it their symbolic significance, or the way they cue our memories? For me, it’s all of these aspects.

Flowers have fascinated me since I was a child. Our family home was in a country town and my parents were very keen gardeners who grew many Australian native plants. So early on I was introduced to the large diverse families of Grevillea, Acacia, Eucalypt and Banksia.

banksia brownii, floral portrait, studio portrait of flowers, Horst P. Horst

Banksia Brownii

This particular banksia attracted me for two reasons – the central position of the flower and the delicate nature of its leaves. I am a great admirer of the lighting techniques used by the German-American fashion photographer Horst P. Horst (1906-1999). This is my tribute to his photographic style.

My parents were not fanatical purists about Australian native plants, so I have memories of other exotic plants in our garden like a shady bed of Coleus (with its highly decorative variegated leaves), a trellis filled with flowering Sweet Peas, and the wafting fragrance from a Gardenia bush.

My wife Helen and I have adapted and nurtured the gardens of six homes in our time together (yes, we’ve moved a lot!). We share a love of flowers and try to grow our favourites.

Meconopsis, Poppy, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

Blue Himalayan Poppies

These flowers were so exotic we had to grow them! We bought the seeds via mail order and planted just one pot. We watched their growth like anxious parents. As the flower buds developed, it became a waiting game: would I be away, travelling when the flowers opened; would all its flowers appear at once? Luckily, I was at home when these blooms opened so the pot went straight into the studio, in front of the camera.  

Of course like all gardeners, we can’t grow everything. So if Helen or I want to buy particular blooms we visit the Sydney Flower Market – a bustling warehouse of colour and perfume where seasonal flowers jostle for attention and florists respond with cash.

Lilies, Lilium, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

White Lilies

There is something about the way that lilies open that I find sensual and intimate. First their petals slowly part to reveal their inner sanctum. Then their stamens swell as they produce pollen. And finally their petals curl back until everything is on show.

What I love about the flower market is the variety of blooms on offer and the opportunity for me to choose the best specimens for a studio shoot. When I’m working in macro mode, the lens and lighting accentuate every crinkle and blemish. So I am always on the lookout for perfect flowers.

studio portrait of flower, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

Tulip

I’m intrigued by the translucence of petals. When I first looked into this open tulip and began positioning the camera for this close-up, I had no idea how I was going to light its beautiful interior. But once I fired up the Hosemaster and began to play with lighting positions, I realised that lighting through the petals was going to produce the most revealing shot.

Another benefit of being at a flower market is that I get to meet the actual growers. On occasions I have been invited to visit their properties so I can choose the best specimens for a studio shoot. For me, it is a real privilege to enter the grower’s world and to see the care and attention they give their crop of flowers. To be standing in the field, surrounded by the practicalities of flower-growing is such a contrast to the showy atmosphere of the florist’s shop.

Telopea, Waratah, NSW floral emblem, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

Telopea (Waratah)

I was once invited to a waratah farm. It was a crisp October morning in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and the usually scraggy waratah bushes were flush with these beautiful flowers. The grower and I walked up and down the rows of bushes selecting the best blooms. This stunning specimen was the pick of the bunch. In the studio I lit the flower so it appeared to radiate its beauty.

There are other sources of flowers. I have had neighbours and friends call me to mention particular flowers in their gardens — wanting to know if I’m interested in photographing their specimens. My mentor, Robert Clark (an accomplished food photographer), grew a range of potted orchids in his backyard. One day he rang to offer me a spray of flowers. He was going on holidays and wanted me to see these blooms at their best. The next morning when I opened my front door I found a single stem of Brassia Orchids standing in a bottle of water. Rob was right – these orchids were exquisite.

Orchid, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure, Moulin Rouge dancers, footlighting

Brassia Orchid

In the studio, my constant quest is to try to capture the essence of a flower — to find a new way of “seeing” each bloom. The shape of these orchids suggested dancers to me — perhaps cancan dancers at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. So I chose to light the flowers from underneath, to suggest footlights in a darkened theatre.

What I find exciting about photographing flowers is the sheer diversity of subjects. There are hundreds of thousands of flowering plant species around the world and I have only just begun recording their images. My joy is finding a way of bringing these blooms into the studio and giving them the star treatment!

Most of my light paintings are available as limited edition, archival prints (see the menu heading — Prints).  My watermark does not appear on purchased prints.

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