Photography

Artist Interview with The Black & White Box

My photo lab, The Black & White Box, have started a great little series on their blog called “Artist Interviews”. I was surprised and honoured to be asked a few questions for it recently. It was actually really nice to sit down and put my thoughts about shooting into writing.

You can see the original post on their website (and more) here: The Black & White Box - Blog


000002.jpg

A super dad and husband, as well as an awesome photographer, we’ve been long-time fans of Sam. And because we think he’s the best, we wanted to ask him a few of our burning questions about his practice, and he gladly obliged…

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m 27, I live and work in Masterton for an innovative local tech company, I’m a husband, a dad, a songwriter/musician, and I’m a 4 on the enneagram. I’m deeply interested in art, theology/philosophy (from a post-evangelical perspective), and how they inform and impact our lives and the world. I love brewing single origin coffee in my V60, heading on family adventures, and connecting with people.

21040030.JPG

How did your love of photography come about?

I started with a hand-me-down iPhone 3 and VSCo filters, so I could post our newly-married adventures online. I guess that my initial desire to take photos came from being of the social media generation – wanting to document what we were up to and share that with friends, especially with things like recording music, playing shows etc.

One weekend my good friend Tom (hollow.co.nz) documented our band practice and the surrounding antics on his family’s old film camera. I wanted a taste of the film action myself, so I bought the cheapest 35mm camera and film I could find online – Holga 135BC and Superia 400, and I took that combo with me everywhere that summer.

My boss caught me with it one day, next day he turns up with his old (mint) Minolta XE-1 and 50mm f/1.4 lens he had tucked away in the garage and said I could have it! I was so excited that I took it on a trip to Nepal as my only camera, before I had even put a test roll through it. It was getting those scans back that solidified my love for photography – I was hit with waves of emotions as I scrolled through the photos. I think that moment showed me the power of photography, I just knew that I wanted to keep taking photos. From there I started to see photos as expression and communication, rather than just pure documentation.

And I still use that Minolta regularly!

edit-000001.jpg

Why have you decided to document your family and life on film as opposed to other mediums?

Partially, it’s the resulting image I get without having to sit at a computer working in Lightroom, but it’s also the way it forces me to shoot. Shooting with a limited number of frames helps me to think more about the photo – framing, light, timing, what should/shouldn’t be in the frame etc. Shooting without immediate feedback on a screen also means that I’m more engaged with what’s happening in the moment – I’m shooting someone and as I lower the camera I’m looking back at them straight away, rather than down at a screen. It’s quite a peaceful experience shooting this way with old cameras, especially after spending my work week in front of a computer. It’s also a nice feeling to know that in the future, my photos aren’t going to be lost when a hard drive fails or becomes obsolete!

I guess you could summarise it as: having a camera on me helps me to keep my eyes open to the beauty of moments I may have missed otherwise – like the way the light falls somewhere, or a small gesture between people – and shooting on film helps me to stay engaged with that moment and know when to put down the camera.

edit-000004.jpg

How do you find motivation to continue to go out and pursue your creative endeavours?

That’s a tough one. With both my main creative endeavours – music and photography – motivation comes and goes in waves. I always feel a need to express myself from within what’s going on in my life, so I can never just sit back and not create, but I do allow myself to have breaks. After I finish a roll of film I just won’t load anything up again until inspiration strikes and I want to shoot again. Sometimes that can be a couple of weeks. In the meantime I usually read up on the masters of photography and look at their photos for inspiration. I’ll often reflect on my photography and make notes of things I want to work on or shoot more.

There’s a quote I heard Rob Bell say, “you’re a human being, not a human doing”. This one stuck with me – I try to focus on being, being present to myself and the moment, and allowing the art to come out of that naturally.

000009.jpg

What advice would you give to your younger self given your experience in life so far?

“Follow your gut”. I’m only learning this now and it’s still so hard!

“Be true to who you are. Try not to compare yourself or your work to anyone else.”

000002.JPG

What is your current camera setup and favourite film?

Hasselblad 500CM (80mm lens and waist level finder) with Portra 400/800 – hand in hand with the Olympus XA with HP5+ or Tri-X, pushed to 1600.

That being said, I have a few other inherited cameras I still use for fun and a bunch of old expired film to work through!

edit-000011.jpg

Are there artists you look up to or admire?

I just love looking up all the masters of photography, some of those who have had significant impact on me are: W. Eugene Smith, Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, Gordon Parks, Sebastião Salgado, and William Eggleston.

I’m also a fan of (the slightly more contemporary) Andre Wagner and Alec Soth.

edit-0000040.jpg

What importance do you think film could have for future generations?

I think everyone learning photography should learn about film – the process of shooting, developing, and darkroom printing. It is just so magical, and so fun. Working with actual light and materials instead of sensors and settings and menus is so refreshing for me, and I can see that being the case for even more people in the future too. For certain types of commercial and personal work, film can be a really good fit too. I try encourage anyone I can to shoot a roll!

000023.JPG

Where do you see yourself in 5 – 10 years time with your photography work?

I’d like to organise family shots into some really nice albums, but also I’d like to get out in the community with my camera more and maybe work on a photobook. I’m always thinking about what photographic project I could take on, going over my photos for reoccuring themes to run with a bit more. But for now I’m just following my gut and my curiousity and seeing what comes of it! The outward goal for me is to record what I see in the world in a way that will make people feel what I feel when I’m in the moment. The world moves so fast so if I can learn how to stop and feel, and share that others, I’ll be happy.

000020.JPG

Where can we view more and keep up to date with your photography?

Check out my website where I’ve been blogging a bit – www.samtanner.nz

Or come say hi on Instagram @samtannernz! I’ve made a handful of awesome photographer friends on there!

Expired Films: Ektacolor Pro 1000 & T-Max 100

IMG_4855.JPG

Recently I’ve stumbled into buying or receiving a handful of expired rolls of film, mostly expired in the 90s, and I’ve enjoyed shooting them a lot more than I thought! I have come to a place with my photography that I know what film types I like to shoot - I know how they will respond to changes in exposure, I know how to get the colours I want, I know how to work around changing or less-than-ideal lighting scenarios. It’s a good work flow. I know what to expect.

But maybe that’s not the point, for personal photography, to “know what to expect”. Shooting these old rolls (especially the Ektacolor which I couldn’t find much about on the internet) has brought back some of that excitement of when I first started shooting film. It’s kind of exciting not knowing what the colours will look like or if I gave it enough exposure.

I metered for these shots by adding one stop of exposure per decade since the film’s expiry. For example, the TMax was ISO 100 and expired by 20 years, so I set the meter to ISO 25. Ektacolor was ISO 1000 and expired by 20 years, so I set the meter to ISO 250. You’ll see some of these Ektacolor shots are still underexposed (hello grainy/faded shadows/VSCo look), but they still look cool and I had a blast shooting it and waiting for my scans!

Click/tap a photo to open the full size version.

-Sam


Kodak Ektacolor Pro 1000

Shot on Hasselblad 500cm // 80mm f2.8 // dev+scan by The Black and White Box


Kodak TMax 100

Shot on Hasselblad 500cm // 80mm f2.8 // dev+scan by The Black and White Box

Expired Film: Agfa Vista 100

Recently I found a bunch of Agfa Vista 100 for sale locally, and at a bargain price, so I snapped it up! After selling a few rolls and throwing some to Mr. Waru (check out our “Cam & Sam” film adventures on youtube), I loaded up my Olympus XA with a roll to give it a jam myself!

I’d previously shot AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 400, so I was expecting that same over-saturated, consumer film look. I didn’t like that film when I shot it so I wasn’t expecting much of this roll. For you film photographers - it’s worth noting though that the more modern 400 speed Vista is not even produced by the same company that these expired Vista 100 rolls were. Without significant research I gather that Agfa at some point became AgfaPhoto, and people claim that the modern Vista 400 is just rebranded Fujifilm stock (it is suspicious that both Fujicolor C200 and AgfaPhoto Vista 200 were discontinued around the same time).

Ramblings aside, these expired rolls were made a long time ago and expired in 2008. I applied the usual rule of 1 stop of extra exposure per decade of expiry, plus the Olympus XA shoots in aperture-priority so I added another stop when I was shooting in the day, to make sure I didn’t underexpose the film. That means I was shooting at ISO 25! Unlike digital, overexposing is better than underexposing, which should be avoided unless you like faded grainy shadows.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the film didn’t have over-saturated colours and the skin tones came out great! I’m glad I saved a few more rolls to shoot myself. I have a few other various types of expired film thanks to Cam, so I’ll be sharing those results soon too!

-Sam


Dev+scan by The Black and White Box // click images to open lightbox

Pushing Portra 400 to 1600

Portra 400 - everybody’s favourite colour film (me included). I’m sure we’ve all read and seen online the rave reviews, the under/over exposure camparisons, and seen the gorgeous tones it renders. What I found out recently though that I hadn’t heard about, was it’s ability to be pushed to 1600 or even 3200 (see Jonathan Canlas)!

I stumbled upon a blog post that claimed Portra 400 pushed one stop (to 800) gives more satisfying results than Portra 800 shot at box speed (800)! What?! Check out that blog post here. Obviously “better” all depends on what look you are after, so I set out to see for myself. Full disclosure: this isn’t a comparison as I haven’t tried pushing Portra 800 - just a test to see what Portra 400 looks like pushed.

My Setup/What is “pushing”?

I loaded up a roll in my Olympus XA. Normally if I’m pushing Tri-X or HP5+ to 1600 I set my meter to 800, so I did the same here. The XA shoots in aperture-priority (meaning you can basically forget about metering) with manual rangefinder focus for the sharp little 35mm f/2.8 lens. It’s nice being able to just focus, frame and shoot. Another benefit of the rangefinder camera is you can shoot slower shutter speeds than you would on an SLR (no mirror = no mirror slap/camera shake)!

So what is “pushing” film? The Darkroom Lab have a very clear guide to this on their blog, if you’re interested in pushing film you should go give it a read here, then come back! It would be a waste of time to repeat it all here but basically, you underexpose the film when you shoot it and you develop longer to compensate for that. When you push film, make sure that you tell your lab how many stops to push it in processing, and that it is marked super clearly on the roll/s! In this case it’s a 400 ISO film pushing to 1600 ISO which is 2 stops, marked as “+2”.

Results

When pushing film you will see added grain and contrast. I really like the way the colours came out! You still have gorgeous Portra tones but with more contrast (a side affect of the push processing) - really nice blacks with little/no weird colours in the shadows. Being able to shoot with smaller aperture or higher shutter speed indoors or in low light is really handy, so I may just have to do this again!

Click an image below to scroll through the gallery and see the results for yourself. Leave me a comment if you have any questions.

-Sam


Ahiaruhe House

I’ve driven/ridden past this house so many times over the years, but never taken the time to get up close. I did take one photo recently while on a motorbike ride with my Dad. This is without a doubt the most photographed house in the Wairarapa - wanting to avoid a cliche shot I got down in the grass:

Shot on Ilford HP5+ pushed two stops / Minolta XE-7 / 50mm 1.4

Shot on Ilford HP5+ pushed two stops / Minolta XE-7 / 50mm 1.4

Some friends (and fellow film shooters) came to the Wairarapa and were keen to check the place out, so we headed out one overcast morning. I was shooting two rolls of film I’d never shot before:

  • 35mm Delta 400 in my Minolta XE-1

  • 120 Ilford FP4 (expired) in my Hasselblad

Shout out to Zach and Xin for the good company! You can check them out on Instagram: @zachetc / @___xin.__ . They just completed a big roadtrip of the North Island and are currently sharing some of their images.


Shooting Thoughts

I don’t often shoot one subject with two cameras (I’m usually carrying one camera with me for the day) but this was a chance to finish off both of these rolls I had loaded so I took both cameras along. My lenses were 50mm on the Minolta and 80mm on the Hasselblad, both ‘normal’ focal lengths for their negative size, so it was relatively easy to switch between the two.

One thing I’ve been struggling with lately is the 50mm lens, especially after using my inherited Olympus XA with it’s nifty 35mm lens. The 50mm lens was a great lens to learn on, lending itself to simpler compositions and subject isolation. I still love it for portraits (and I’ve taken heaps of my favourite photos with it) but I find that over the last year or so I’ve been increasingly looking for a wider field of view - for portraits that capture more of the environment, more dynamic lines/angles that a wider lens can capture. That would have been especially handy in this situation i.e. inside the house. The missing staircase had some interesting light coming in from upstairs and broken stairs in the foreground, however due to the positioning of the walls I just couldn’t get it all in.

Interestingly I don’t have the same feeling with the 80mm lens on the Hasselblad - perhaps this is because the square format lends itself to different compositions, so I’m not looking for the same dynamics in a shot as I would be when shooting on 35mm film with a 2:3 aspect ratio. Any photographers relate?

It was also nice to shoot a still subject - usually I’m trying to capture kids playing or people interacting so this was a nice change of pace. I really “got in the zone” of shooting as I was able to take as much time as I liked to think about/frame a shot. Maybe I’ll find some time to do more landscape-type photography.

Take a look through the photos and let me know what you think!

-Sam