Life at 30…

Between February and July 2019, I shot about 30 rolls of film. Except for four rolls, two Tri-X and two HP5+, which were shot for a darkroom class, all were done to test gear bought online. On receiving the scans, I gave them a cursory look to check for light leaks and such, then filed them away. It was in late August when I began to go through them with a more critical eye. By that time, I had finished the class and interacted with real photographers and finished the first books.  

Only a small percentage of those early shots turned out the way I expected. It took much more reading (Upton book) before I began to understand what had gone wrong. There were two major problems. First, I only read manuals enough to know how to load batteries and film, so rookie mistakes were common. For example,  blurred images from using a shutter speed that was too slow with a zoom lens. I thought I could nail a shots at 1/45. Well, maybe 30 years ago, but apparently, not anymore. Initially, I assumed there was a problem with the lens, but after trying more shots outdoors, and reading more, it was clear motion blur was the culprit. I didn’t get focus points either, and as a result, shots were off because the cameras tended to focus on things I wasn’t aiming at. “Eye start” also caused its share of problems. Switching to aperture priority, using a tripod, and turning off “eye start” solved blurring and out-of-focus issues.  

Another thing that puzzled me greatly was the tone of pictures. I had taken a series of shots indoors using late afternoon light, so the room was relatively dark. However, the scanned images were much lighter than I wanted. The photos were supposed to be dark, like the room. Later, I learned about meters and how they move everything to Zone 5. A similar problem occurred with yellow flowers. Yellows and purples are my favorite flower colors.  I quickly noticed the details in yellow flowers never showed up well in scans. They were always too bright. This seems to have been the result of metering dark green foliage with bright yellow flowers. Since the flowers are just returning as I write this, I will soon have a chance to test metering adjustments.  

Depth of field, and to some extent, hyperfocal distance, caused problems as well. I spent two rolls trying to figure out how to get a specific area of the garden in focus while blurring everything beyond. I tried using an app for calculating DoF/HD, but none of the results matched the calculations. I made notes, checked readings on the lens barrels, and took multiple shots. Still, most did not turn out as expected. I will take this up again this summer with a normal lens and accurate distance measurements. I will also use a tripod.  

I discovered neutral density filters, which helped a lot shooting 400 ISO film with an XD11 in early afternoon. Unfortunately, I also learned that things around the XD11 viewfinder could scratch eyeglass lenses. I have since started using protective cups. 

Since my photography activity is still tied directly to the garden, I am about to start photography Season Two. All gear tests are done.  One of the Maxxum 7000s has a wonky viewfinder display, but otherwise, everything currently works fine. I have tested all lenses and selected the best optically and mechanically. And having bought so many items in lots, I have extra stuff that I will eventually try to sell. Going forward, I will concentrate on fine-tuning my understanding of camera features and photography principles. This means creating experimental shots to test everything from metering choices and the Zone system to going through the Ian Smith post on composition and trying each principle. Each experiment will be a post.

One thing the first 30 rolls taught me was the cost of using film gets steep fast. Using local labs, development and scanning (lower quality) for a roll of color was 8-13.00, while black and white was two dollars more. Pushing is one dollar per stop. Cost was one of the reasons for taking the darkroom class. Happily, about six weeks ago, I started doing black and white development at home with df96 and scanning using an Epson v600. Pandemic delays notwithstanding, last week, I finally got everything needed to do color processing—no more trips to the labs, both of which required 35+ minutes of driving each way. 

Experience with those 30 rolls has also influenced my choice of emulsion. I love Lomo 400 and 800 and Portra 160 and 400 (not 800). The Pink Flirt daylilies look best with Portra, and the coneflowers and salvia are better with Lomo. UltraMax will be my standard go-to for non-garden color shots. I don’t foresee doing any portraits. I prefer HP5+ to Tri-X mostly because it is easier to scan. I have rolls of Ultrafine and FP4 to try at some point.  Fuji didn’t make the cut. 

When experimenting, I will use a more formal, structured approach to selecting a lens, subject, and lighting. I will try to focus on a single concept/area/principle (zone, DoF, macro, leading lines, etc.) or camera feature while keeping plenty of notes. Now that I have a library of photo books, I plan to devote more time to studying images created by expert photographers. 

 They say expertise requires 10,000 hours. I have about 9850 left to go (no idea how many rolls that is). While it sounds like a lot of hours, I’m having so much fun, I barely notice. 


  1. Wow, you really have learned a lot in a short time — many things I still haven’t actually learned after many years playing with old cameras.

    1. Yes, it’s been a whirlwind year! Photography became a passion very quickly and unexpectedly. Finding a local darkroom with classes sealed it. I hope it survives the pandemic; I’m eager to make prints.

      Blogging was just as much a surprise. The incident at the cemetery directly led to me blogging. I started writing Monday’s post more than a year ago as an essay, long before I decided to create a blog.

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