Archive for June, 2008

Film photography in 2008 – how to get started?

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I received an email from Julie today. She wrote:

Mark,

I read your page on the Canon AE-1. My father also purchased one in about 1976 when it was first introduced, he sold it one day at a yard sale when I was at work – it was very upsetting. Anyways I have since acquired one recently, and since I am so used to auto focusing digital cameras etc… I have no clue on what the basics are that I need to know about this camera.

Are there any tips or resources that you could give me? I have such a passion to learn and I am an empty book waiting to be filled!!

Thanks so very much,

Julie

Now, it’s good to see that people who already experienced digital photography are turning towards analogue photography again just out of curiosity and eagerness to learn. I think it is a great plan to get down to the basics of photography. It may even improve your results in the digital world if you know the “old” stuff.

Noon in Mantova, Italy (2000)
Noon in Mantova (from our Italy Gallery)
Mark Zanzig

When I switched to digital in 2005, I made a drastic decision to sell all my analogue equipment. So in terms of hands-on tips my memory is already fading a bit. Then again, analogue photography is not that much different from digital photography. The shutter is released, the aperture opens to a pre-determined size, light hits film (or sensor) for a pre-determined time, the aperture is closed, and the image is being transported away. Yep, it’s basically the same.

So, here are my generic tips for those who want to experience analogue photography using old cameras like the Canon AE-1 Program:

1. Get a manual for your camera

For the Canon FD cameras you’ll find most manuals at Christian Rollinger’s excellent site CanonFD.com. The site is also a great site for other FD-related information, e.g. brochures and out-of-print books. This, and the links page, make Rollinger’s site an authority in its field.

2. Get some decent Canon FD lenses

As most photographers are dumping their analogue equipment in exchange for state-of-the-art digital bodies, you can snatch good FD lenses and cameras on eBay at attractive prices. There is really no shortage.

A good set would certainly be: FD 20 2.0 / FD 28 2.8 / FD 50 1.4 / FD 35-105 mm / FD 70-210 mm – this will cover the complete range from wide angle to tele.

I suggest to do yourself a favor, and get only original Canon lenses. No need to fiddle around with other (even cheaper) lenses. Canon’s FD lenses are much more solid than similar priced lenses today.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, CA
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California (from our USA Gallery)
Mark Zanzig

3. Find the experts, and discuss

There are some awesome groups on Flickr dedicated to film photography. I suggest as a starting point the Canon Film Photography group. The traffic is low, but you’ll find some good discussions now and then. If you want to participate in the discussions, you will need a (free) Yahoo! account.

Another Flickr group worth mentioning is the Canon Photography group. There are more members, more discussions, more pictures, but all the digital guys hang out there, so they might not be able to offer concrete advice for old cameras.

4. Get slide film

Only with slide film you can actually see what you were doing right, and what not. With negative film (for prints) the results will always depend on the lab and how their machines interpret the negative film.

As you want to dive into analogue photography, you should see how your work with the camera influences the results. A word of warning, though: with film your cost goes up with each and every photo. Thus, it is a good idea to think twice before releasing the shutter. :-)

You may wonder about the quality of slide film. Well, it’s still okay-ish, compared to 2008′s standards. The three photos of this post are available in high-resolution, each about 9 Megapixel in size. The photos were shot with a Canon AE-1 Program on Fuji Sensia 100 slide film and scanned using a Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II film scanner at the highest resolution. Postprecessing was done using Adobe Photoshop. Click the images to download the high resolution files (about 3.5 MB each). If you want to learn how to scan slides, please check my Step by step slide scanning tutorial.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley, Arizona (from our USA Gallery)
Mark Zanzig

And then, I’d say — practice, practice, practice, and have fun!

Ah, the old days. A dreamy smile comes up on my face… Having shot a couple rolls of film, then waiting for the lab to develop the film, putting the fragile slides to the lighttable to inspect them with a magnifying glass, then sort the slides and mark the picks with a waterproof pen or a sticker. Photography was a lot slower back then.

Do I wish these times back? Naaaaah! ;-)

Wedding Photography is “Shooting Happiness”

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Wedding photographers seem to have a really bad image with photo journalists, and I don’t know why, really. (Disclosure: I shoot both weddings and news.) Some colleagues say, it’s because the subject per se appears to be utterly boring and always the same. A wedding. A bride. A groom. A church. A priest. A party. Guests. Gifts. Wedding cake. Rings. Roses. Just to name a few. Other colleagues say, it is because wedding photographers often capture some artificial uber-kitsch that has nothing to do with reality at all. The groom carries the bride across the doorstep. They kiss passionately. They pose in front of a sunset (if they’re lucky). They go to church. They dance a Waltz.

Whenever this topic comes up, I explain to everyone, that I actually love to shoot weddings. The wedding represents an important part in the life of any couple. They (believe to) have found each other and want to stay together for a long time, like until the end. It’s their day, and they deserve a couple of decent photos to remember this day. To remember what? Their emotions. Their excitement. And, most importantly, their joy and happiness.

Happy bride
Samra, 10 minutes before getting married
Mark Zanzig

Beautiful shots like these do not only excite the bride & groom when they get the set, they also satisfy me as photographer. I try to find the happiness the couple feels and conserve it for eternity. So in a way I’m trying to “shoot real happiness”. I agree that the setup may be “artificial”, but then again the ritual is part of human society. And the emotions it provokes are pure and genuine. That’s why I am always proud to be allowed to celebrate the wedding with the couple, even if I’m just the photographer.

Natascha and Matthias during the formals
Natascha & Matthias have fun during the formals
Mark Zanzig

And believe it or not: each and every wedding is different. Some weddings will even challenge seasoned photographers. The overall theme may be the same, but it’s the details that are different. Different locations, different weather, and different people. You have to use all your knowledge on photography to get this right. And more often than not, you need excellent people skills to not mess around with this very important day in their lives.

So, the next time you encounter a pj complaining about wedding photography “being lame”, please make him think twice, or at least argue with him thoroughly. Because it can be great to shoot happiness!

What’s in your bag, Mark?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Some readers have asked me: “what do you use to carry your photo equipment, Mark?” The answer is: it really depends on the job. Normally, that is for short jobs in or around Munich, I take my trusted Tamrac Expedition 5 backpack. It’s quite stuffed with my most important (think “butter & bread”) equipment:

  • Two DSLR bodies (1ds mark II, 1d mark II N)
  • Two lenses (EF 24-70, EF 70-200)
  • Two 580EX flashes (one in the outside compartment)
  • Two replacement batteries for the cameras
  • 16 replacement batteries for the flashes
  • An airpump for sensor cleaning
  • Optical cleaning cloth
  • Two Stofen Omni bounce soft boxes
  • Six memory cards (in the outside compartments)
  • Job briefing, airline tickets, business cards, other documents

Here’s a peek inside:

Tamrac Expedition 5 with equipment

In case you’re wondering about the weight of the backpack with all that stuff – it’s 22.5 lb (10.2 kg). It’s slightly overweight for the handbaggage of most airlines, but you can always remove the flashes and batteries.

I use a second bag – an early model of the Tamrac Pro 12 5612 with a single shoulder strap. That bag takes my other lenses, filters, and chargers (and the camera manuals, just in case ;-). I’ve got this bag since my film camera days when you needed to take plenty of films for a job, and Tamrac had these “pop-in” pockets for the films. Since I went digital, I removed these pockets and use the bag just for bigger jobs like weddings or outdoor portrait shootings. Of course, the tripod has a bag of its own that also takes up the slim monopod.

The one photo book that influenced me most

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

I guess every photographer has a “starting point” early in life, a key event that actually made him want to become a photographer or -as in my case- even a press photographer.

For me, it’s easy to pin-point that event in my life. Back in the 1970s, when I was in my early teens, my parents purchased a coffee table book, “The best photos of LIFE” (German edition). On 304 large pages it presented a superb collection of the finest press photos available, most of them in black & white, shot by some of the best press photographers the world has seen. All the big names were there, and we know today that these are the pioneers of photojournalism: Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andreas Feininger, George Silk, just to name a few. Of course, I did not know anything about them or photography or journalism at that time. But I did like what I saw.

680 press photos from all areas of life, exploring the entire LIFE archive of more than 18 million photos! Ralph Graves, LIFE’s final editor-in-chief, explains in the introduction that it was “a nightmare, and a privilege, to make the selection”. He covers the period from 1936 to 1972, the short lifespan of LIFE magazine. Despite the enormous amount of photos available, the twenty chapters of the book help to structure the selection, from “The Moment” to “The Telling Picture” and “Fun in Life”. And the editors did not just focus on the big moments in photo journalism; they also show simple yet beautiful details of everyday life.

Book Cover: Die besten Photos aus LIFE

Anyway, I saw this book, and I was hooked. I knew immediately that THIS was what I wanted to do for a living. Photo journalism meant notonly to be in the middle of the action and to capture the most important moments for the history, but also to show the people and their lives as they were. This job enabled a single individual to present his (sometimes limited) view to the world. An idealistic view of our job, sure, but fascinating nonetheless.

Life went on. I entered photography. And I forgot about the book.

When we moved to our new house a couple of months ago, I found it in the basement between other books. I opened it – and was hooked again, after all those years. I spent an hour looking at the superb photos. That old feeling came back, and I knew I had done the right thing. :-)

Thanks to the Internet, you can probably not only snatch a copy of this book on eBay or Amazon*, you can also view the most important photos online, in the TIME & LIFE picture archive, where the images are presented in cooperation with Getty Images.

There is some truly amazing stuff to be found there, even more so if you think about this being an “all film” archive coming from a time with no (or very little) automatic camera functions. Breathtaking.

I swear, this book is worth its money. You won’t regret it.

*Ralph Graves (Ed.)
Die besten Photos aus LIFE
ISBN-10: 388102073X
ISBN-13: 978-3881020732