Mysterious Forest – Learning from the Negative

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Ilford Delta 100, D76 1+3, Post processed in LightRoomHasselblad 500 C/M, Ilford Delta 100, D76 1+3, Post processed in LightRoom

This image represents the next steps in my learning about development, scanning, and post-processing. They all go together and even though there was a good amount of additional contrast added to this image (as well as some dodging and burning), the feel of medium format and film are still very present with an expansive feel and lovely tones.

The first thing about this image is that, straight off the scanner, it was amazingly flat. I can’t even tell you have flat it was. It was so flat that I thought I’d completely messed up the processing. However, after some help from my friend on Facebook community “Film Shooters Collective” I was able to reverse engineer what was going on.

1) The image was somewhat under-exposed.

This was one of Southern California’s typical “June Gloom” days (even though we are now in August!) with high overcast and flat lighting. It was precisely this lighting that encouraged me to go out shooting. Shooting in a strong sunny day is nearly impossible to manage the highlights and shadows. However, still having shot way more digital than film (in an intentional way) I was too concerned about the highlights and I let the shadows go too dark. The upshot was that most of the image was underexposed.

2) The scanner software, left to its own devices, wants to make a neutral gray image

Much like the metering in our cameras, the scanner software, by default, wants to find an image that averages out to neutral gray. In the case of my first scan, this produced a really gray image, and I thought it was the negative itself. It wasn’t, it was the scan. After I figured out what was really going on with the negative by using the densitometer in the SilverFast software, I was able to tweak my scanning parameters to get an image that was easier to modify in post. I still added quite a bit of contrast and then the normal dodge and burn but there is a beauty in the gray tones of this image that reflects the film itself.

3) My film holder was not positioned properly for a sharp scan

Flatbed scanners have a specific place where they focus – as some distance above the glass. It turns out that this is variable from scanner to scanner and there are little feet on the film-holders that can be adjusted. However you need to figure out how to adjust them and then run the experiments to find just the right height. In my case, I have the Epson film-holders set to the + position and added one-ply of post-it note paper in addition. I’m now really happy with the sharpness of the scan.

4) You will need multiple scanning software

Just like post-processing software and camera bags, one-size does not fit all. I ended up using SilverFast to judge the quality of the negative (it has a densitometer), once I figured out what was going on with the density itself, I was able to get nearly identical scans with either SilverFast or VueScan. VueScan is still easier if you know where you need to go with the negative itself.

Something Elegant

Wedding Cake

It’s been about 1 month since I purchased my Hasselblad 500 C/M and I finally have something to show for my efforts. When they say “3rd time’s the charm” maybe it is true. This was my third roll. The first two were in color, as was the fourth and I haven’t really even cracked into looking at them yet.

I think it is worth talking about how different it is processing a film scan versus digital RAW file. Film is different. Film is smooth. Film has years of expertise baked into how it is going to react to light. When I process a digital RAW file it is too easy to go beyond reality. I only need one weak lapse in judgement to push a slider too far – and there are so many sliders. I have no background in how light works from a physical perspective or the special properties of light sensitive silver gelatin. Only me, my two eyeballs, my screen, and that gray matter between my ears that too easily seeks stimulation over subtlety.

When I worked with my film scans, the tones were set. The tonal relationships were set. Sure, I could push the pixles around a little – a bit more contrast, a dodge here, a burn there – but the scanned file didn’t posses that Gumby-like elasticity of a RAW file that allows us to morph our image (almost) to infinity and beyond. Instead, the film engineers are our guides with a century of so of expertise painstakingly refined to respond just right to the light. Dashed are those thrill-seeking voices in my head.

Then there is the view of the camera. Medium format is different. My one and only lens is an 80mm focal length. When we shoot with our nifty dSLRs, we are used to thinking about the compression and field of view of an 80mm lens – whether on a full-frame or cropped. Only in Medium Format 80mm gives you the field of view of 50mm (in 35mm land) and 25mm (in micro four-thirds land), but the compression is different. The perspective is different. It is more accurate to think about a 35mm frame to be a cropped version of a Medium Format frame (and remember, Medium Format is just a cropped version of 4×5, etc…) And yes, today we have good rectilinear corrected lenses but the compression is different. The feel is different. The expansiveness is different. And it is this expansiveness that peaked my interest in Medium Format to begin with. The fact that I’m shooting film was pure economics (who can afford those digital backs?) – until now that I see the results.

Here I present my first of 4 images of Disney Hall in Los Angeles. A beautiful elegant building with trademark Frank Gehry styling. Each image will be posted separately, because each image deserves its own page.

Hasselblad 500 C/M, 80mm, Ilford Delta 100