Shootin’ Slides

So after becoming frustrated with the world of scanning negatives and trying/hoping/praying that the color balance was true for each one, I’ve decided to shoot more slides. This has a couple of ramifications. First, I’ll have to shoot more Fuji film, since they’re the only ones that make color transparencies anymore. Secondly, the exposures have to be much better (so they say).

The first doesn’t bother me so much. My main thing is that I like to support Kodak, since they’re also the only manufacturer of motion picture film stock anymore. The second doesn’t really change things for me. It’s always been a goal of mine to be as precise as possible with my exposures. Spot meters are a favorite, as they are an excellent tool that helps with the visualization of the final image. Once you know in which zone (in Zone System terms) everything falls, then you can imagine what each portion of the image will look like in the end.

Now, using a spot meter doesn’t make one infallible. I have my share of bad exposures. The nice thing about slides, is that you can see easily see exposure errors and how they affect the image. With negatives, you can only guess at the density, and you can’t easily tell if there is a color shift from the error.

Getting slides developed is pretty easy. The labs want you to think it’s nigh impossible to do at home in your kitchen, but they are also trying to get your business. Locally, the only lab that will take any film is Mike’s Camera, so that’s where I used to take my slides. I long for the days where they did the processing in-house, for now, they send the film to Colorado, and the turnaround is roughly three weeks! That’s way too long to wait. The solution was to do the impossible: home slide developing.

It’s not so hard, after all. One simply needs a roaster oven and a thermometer to get the job done. A roaster oven is basically a big crock pot with a metal bowl, instead of a ceramic one. I found this link on Ken Rockwell’s site. It’s from a guy on Smugmug that processes his film in one of these roaster ovens. It’s easy to find one on Amazon, but make sure you get one with a smooth dial that you can adjust in tiny increments.

In the end, slides are easy to do at home. It’s also cheaper if you reuse the chemicals. The results are just as good as the three week alternative. Here are a few examples of some things I’ve shot lately. The color of slide film really is much better than negatives. The tones are not as compressed as in negative film, meaning greater bit depth per channel when scanning. Thanks for reading.

Recently I’ve put a little time into trying out the old pre-exposure trick. Pre-exposure is basically just a double exposure where the first exposure is of an even, neutral surface. Ansel Adams explains it well in his book, The Negative. I’m having trouble writing someting clear at the moment.

Anyway, below are some examples. Notice the increase in shadow detail. I tried to pre-expose to zone I. My method was to first expose the film to direct sunlight through a plastic diffuser. This created a reddish hue in the shadows, which can be corrected later. I may experiment with some green gels or a light green filter at some point; this should create a more yellow tone in the shadows.

As for the base exposures, the first images had the tree trunks placed purposely in about zone II to test the pre-exposure. The second set of images had the tree behind the Yucca tree placed at zone V, which was pretty much the proper exposure for the exterior. I wanted to see how much the pre-exposure would help in a case of total disregard for the shadow area.

Regular Exposure Pre-Exposed
Normal Exposure photo RegExposureTree_zps4991b63a.png Pre-exposed photo PreExposureTree_zpsf8af057f.png
 photo ShedNormal_zps93143f10.png  photo ShedPreXposed_zps312f65cd.png

It appears that it’s harder to see the difference when the pictures are so small. The links go to my photobucket page for each. Hopefully, this is a useful post… And here is one more picture. I can’t remember the exposure for this one, but the brightest grass was exposed to zone VII. No comparison shot for this one though.
 photo BigTree_zps05c1145a.png

Experiments in the lost art of pre-exposure

Kodak Ektar

Sometimes I have the compulsive need to just take a picture of something… anything! That’s what these photos are. I tend to spend too much time thinking about things and reading about technical stuff rather than actually going out and making photos. Anywho, with my trusty new (old) Pentax spot meter, it was time to put the legendary Zone System to the test.

It turns out that the Zone System is pretty simple. The hardest part is just judging which zone something should fall into. The one lesson I’ve learned so far is to not meter what I like to call “exposure singularities”. In simple terms, don’t meter straight into the sun or a light bulb and say, “That’s zone 9”. Also, don’t meter something totally black and think that it’s automatically zone 0. These two extremes reach so far into infinity over and under exposure that they’ll not let other parts of your scene fall into the right zone.

It’s also good to meter many things in the frame. Let’s say I want something in the shadows to go to zone 3. It’ll have some delicate detail there. Then I should meter the main subject and some brighter areas to make sure they are being exposed properly. This is perhaps described in the wrong order, since the main subject should be the reference point, not the shadows. On the other hand, nothing is more annoying than trying to pull detail out of a grainy/scanner-noisy shadow area. This is especially gross when the shadow is on someone’s eyes. But this is why we have spot meters and the Zone System: to avoid such predicaments.

It being my first attempt at the Zone System, it seemed appropriate to use the least forgiving film as my gauge. Kodak Ektar 100 is described to be ruthless and unforgiving in its latitude. Some claim that half a stop off ruins the picture. What I found, however, is that Ektar is much more forgiving than expected. The dynamic range is also very impressive. Take, for example, the photo of a covered shed area below. I metered it so that the upper right shadow of the door would be middle grey (zone 5). The lab print had the bright background almost completely blown to white, and the shadows were significantly crushed. After seeing all the detail on the negative though, it was apparent that there was more to be had. It took a lot of color tweaking, but I got some nice shadow and highlight detail here. The stuff in direct light is probably about 6 or 7 stops above the grey door shadow. Cool, huh!

Ektar 100, Petax K-1000

This explained why I always thought Ektar had dynamic range nearly as bad as digital. It’s all because of photo lab auto correct settings. They want to give your pictures contrast, so they totally destroy your highlights and shadows. Personally, I prefer a lower contrast picture that retains detail.

Next comes the color. The previous photo wasn’t much to look at, but look at this:

Pentax K-1000, Kodak Ektar

…and this:

EktarPalmTree

Here are some more that I hope someone likes. Hopefully, my zone system skills get better with practice.