Is This Really Film?

Social media has been up to its old tricks lately; ignoring what it wants, or the truth, and being outraged by minutia. While browsing this lackluster scene this week, a video by a young photographer shuffled past my web crawling called “2024 Will Ruin Film?”

Here are a couple of black-and-white prints I made years ago at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. The process of shooting them on film, then printing them on light-sensitive paper, was a lot of fun.
Here are a couple of black-and-white prints I made years ago at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. The process of shooting them on film, then printing them on light-sensitive paper, was a lot of fun.

Film is already dead, and here’s why: it is actually digital photography.

Wait, what Richard? Film photography is digital photography? I know it sounds crazy (which I agree 20% of everything I say sounds crazy), but talk to anyone who is into film photography, and included in that conversation will be the words, “I can’t wait to get my scans back.”

Scans? So let me get this straight. You want to make pictures on film using a film camera, then have your images converted into digital images?

I am also amused and a little annoyed when social medianites say stuff like, “Film is making a comeback.” Yeah? By the late 1990s, I was shooting something on the order of 3000 film frames a week, and I wasn’t alone. The public and the profession were shooting millions of rolls of film every day. That was the time to be a film photographer.

The same video that pondered if 2024 would bring the death of film also expressed excitement about some of the camera makers creating new film cameras, and I know that’s foolish, since I presently have a dozen or more working film cameras that I never use. I recently even tried to give one away, but I found no takers.

The video guy even went so far as to say, “I think now more than ever, film photography is at the most popular that it’s been.” When I heard him say that, I realized that many young people have no idea what the world was like just a generation ago.

Also, despite what young photographers might assert about shooting film, the small-production, niche film market produces mediocre emulsions at best, and film will never be as good as it was at it’s peak in, say, 1995.

The only person I know who really does do film photography is Mackenzee Crosby, who has a Fujifilm Instax instant film camera. She shoots and shares, and it stays as film instead of tripping back into digital land.

So instead of pining for film stock and showing everyone how moody your photos can be, here is a much better film-related project: go grab that shoebox full of snapshots from your parents or grandparents hall closet, and set out to scan, share and print some of the literally billions of film photographs that otherwise will simply vanish.

This is my setup for digitizing my negatives at home. I haven't had access to a real film enlarger since about 2005, so this setup is the only way for me to preserve and share many of my older images.
This is my setup for digitizing my negatives at home. I haven’t had access to a real film enlarger since about 2005, so this setup is the only way for me to preserve and share many of my older images.

Post-processing

This is a frame of the darkroom I worked in for a couple of years at The Shawnee News-Star. You can see the Ektamatic film processor near the bottom of the frame with its stainless steel feed tray. On the pegboard in the background are film developers DK-50, D-76, Microdol-X and Dektol. To the right are Diafine, Accufine, and Ektaflo stop bath.
This is a frame of the darkroom I worked in for a couple of years at The Shawnee News-Star. You can see the Ektamatic film processor near the bottom of the frame with its stainless steel feed tray. On the pegboard in the background are film developers DK-50, D-76, Microdol-X and Dektol. To the right are Diafine, Accufine, and Ektaflo stop bath.

There are a lot of terms tossed around in the digital photography scene. One of them is “in post.” It refers to changing or fixing an image in the computer or other device in post-processing using software applications.

My readers know that I teach photography at the Pontotoc Technology Center, and in a recent class, someone asked me, “What was post-processing like in the era before laptops and Photoshop?”

The answers honestly seemed to surprise him, both because it was surprisingly complex, and because I could recall it in such detail.

Films: the post-processing routine is determined first by what film we chose, and how we planned to use it. For most of my film-era newspaper work, I shot black-and-white film, with only the occasional “color project.” There were a dozen or more choices, but by the time I came to Ada, I had settled into Kodak’s T-Max film system, using mostly Kodak T-Max 400 and T-Max P3200 films.

One trick we all used at one time or another was called pushing. It worked by deliberately underexposing film, with the intention of allowing you to shoot at higher-than-normal ISO ratings for low-light situations, then increasing development times to try to force more sensitivity out of the film.

Push-processing, as it was known, was not always pretty, but it let us shoot those football games at small schools with very few lights without having to resort to direct flash.

Developers: There were a lot of film developers for black-and-white film that we all tinkered with over the years. I got pretty good at using the right developer for the job. Names such as Microdol-X, D-76, and Accufine have mostly passed into history, with the main survivor being HC-110, a Kodak product we all liked because you could use it in all kinds of different dilutions and temperatures to customize your development processs. The oddest film developer I used was Diafine, a two-part “compensating” developer that was easy to use and allowed push-processing of films like Kodak Tri-X with little effort: three minutes in Diafine A, three minutes in Diafine B, fix, wash, dry, and you’re done.

Color chemicals didn’t offer much choice because of the way their dyes worked, so it required more complex planning.

Papers: After we processed our films, it was time to print. Most of the time for black-and-white printing, I used papers that used two different emulsions (the light-sensitive substances), which allowed us to use filters to control the amount of contrast in a print. Kodak called these papers “Polycontrast”, and Ilford’s brand name was “Multigrade,” but they both worked the same. Papers with only one emulsion were known as “graded” papers, with a grade 1 paper being very low contrast , and grade 5 being very high contrast.

Enlargers: There were three basic kinds of enlargers I used in my film career: condenser, diffusion, and diffusion with a color head. Condenser enlargers made sharper prints, but emphasized film grain, while diffusion enlargers made smoother, less-sharp prints that help hide the “grain” in a really rough image.

Print development: We could take one more bite from the apple when we made prints, including dodging and burning, both of which are featured in today’s Photoshop and Lightroom software suites, as well as controlling the development of the prints themselves.

For much of my career, as it was for many like me at newspapers across the globe, I used an Ektamatic processor, which used activator and stabilizer, creating a “newsroom ready” print in about eight seconds. Ektamatic SC paper prints were designed to be camera-ready for a day or two, and would then start to yellow. Photographers and editors hated them because they smelled like vinegar, but it beat waiting 10 minutes or more for a finished glossy print.

It’s amazing that photography has progressed so much in just 30 or so years, but also amazing that we got so much good photography done back then.

I found a box marked "News slicks March and April 1993" in my office and dumped out the contents. The prints are yellowed with age, but still very usable. They also carry the unmistakable vinegar-smell of Ektamatic prints or the era.
I found a box marked “News slicks March and April 1993” in my office and dumped out the contents. The prints are yellowed with age, but still very usable. They also carry the unmistakable vinegar-smell of Ektamatic prints or the era.

A Look Back: The Fujica ST705

This week I added another handsome 1970s-era Fujica camera, the ST705, to my collection, thanks to a donation from a long-time friend.
This week I added another handsome 1970s-era Fujica camera, the ST705, to my collection, thanks to a donation from a long-time friend.

I ran into an old friend, Gerald, at the the park on Independence Day. Gerald’s wife Doreen took my photography class a few years back, and long before that, my wife worked for Gerald.

Gerald told me that he had an old camera and a few lenses for it, and asked if I would I like to have it to possible show to my class. Sure, I said, I never turn down a camera.

The Fujica ST605 and the Fujica ST705 sit on my glass dining table. The cameras are exactly the same size and weight, and are well-made.
The Fujica ST605 and the Fujica ST705 sit on my glass dining table. The cameras are exactly the same size and weight, and are well-made.

A few days later, a smallish camera bag appeared in my office, and I eagerly dug into it. I found, to my delight, that the camera was a Fujica ST705, one of the bigger brothers of the Fujica ST605, the first SLR I ever owned (link).

The 705 is the same size as the 605, and, in this case, came with the same lens, the lightweight, plastic 55mm f/2.2. The 705 has a full shutter speed value faster than the 605, at 1/1500th, as well as open-aperture metering.

Controls on most Fujica single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera are fairly simple, including this shutter speed dial on the ST705 that features 1/1500th of a second.
Controls on most Fujica single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera are fairly simple, including this shutter speed dial on the ST705 that features 1/1500th of a second.

Also in the bag was a 35mm f/2.8 Kamero lens, which interested me the most, since I have an adaptor to put M42 screw-mount lenses on my Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless digital camera.

The Kamero 35mm f/2.8 lens is well-made and decently sharp.
The Kamero 35mm f/2.8 lens is well-made and decently sharp.

I made a few frames with the 35mm, and was not disappointed, but also not surprised, since most normal and wide angle prime lenses are pretty sharp, even wide open.

Tomatoes sit in a bowl on my kitchen windowsill this morning. Shot with the 35mm f/2.8 Kamero lens on my Fujifilm X-T10, I was happy with the result.
Tomatoes sit in a bowl on my kitchen windowsill this morning. Shot with the 35mm f/2.8 Kamero lens on my Fujifilm X-T10, I was happy with the result.

I also found a Soligor 80-200mm f/4.5, a very common lens that is well-made and good-looking, but optically mediocre at best.

I had fun photographing this stuff, since I took the opportunity to shoot on one of my glass dining tables, allowing me to bring some light in from below.

The Fujica ST605 and the Fujica ST705 sit on my glass dining table. Note the red-filtered light from below, and the green-filtered light from behind and to the right. Both cameras are propped up on a roll of 35mm Fuji film.
The Fujica ST605 and the Fujica ST705 sit on my glass dining table. Note the red-filtered light from below, and the green-filtered light from behind and to the right. Both cameras are propped up on a roll of 35mm Fuji film.

 

Our Legacy

As I approach the age of 60 years, I am starting to thing about what might become of my work when I am gone.

These boxes contain most of my film photography at The Ada News from 1988 to 1997.
These boxes contain most of my film photography at The Ada News from 1988 to 1997.

Now, before you label me as one of those “back in my day” guys, you should know that I remain healthy and happy at my job as a news and sports photographer and staff writer.

But I thought about this extra hard recently because of two occurrences. 1. My young journalist friend Ashlynd visited my office recently, and we talked about the boxes and boxes and boxes of photographic negatives stored under the countertops here. 2. A fellow photographer came to visit recently with the goal of finding some photographic negatives from an event he photographed many years ago, and as a result, he brought down a big plastic tub full of three-ring binders full of negatives.

Neither my work nor his should be relegated to storage. In many cases, my shots were published once in the daily, then packed up neatly in Kodak boxes. That seemed like a sensible plan in the early years of my career. A few of these boxes stored over the period of a few months seemed entirely manageable. But as the years and decades rolled by, those boxes added up.

I certainly set aside many of my best negatives for contest and display, but the bulk of my work, thousands and thousands of images, sit in the dark.

I also think of the millions of images made by news photographers and reporters that might now be in the possession of newspaper/media companies long after their photographers aged out and retired or went to another paper. What plans to these understaffed media companies have for all those images?

I know it’s a lot to ponder, and I don’t know if I have a good answer. Would a historical society be interested in my negatives? Would a college library? The National Archives?

Or am I off base about this? Are the images we made and shared once in the daily newspaper or magazine simply a part of the process of living and being journalists? Have we done enough by witnessing life’s events and sharing them in print?

If you have ideas about the best way to preserve our legacies, I would love to hear them.

You can see the film era taper off abruptly in 2003 to 2005, a period during which I started relying much less on film and almost entirely on digital.
You can see the film era taper off abruptly in 2003 to 2005, a period during which I started relying much less on film and almost entirely on digital.

Did 35mm Film Revolutionize News Photography?

In this screenshot from the movie We Were Soldiers, a photographer makes pictures of a U.S. flag after the battle. 35mm news photography matured in the 1960s due in part to the demands of photographing the Vietnam War.
In this screenshot from the movie We Were Soldiers, a photographer makes pictures of a U.S. flag after the battle. 35mm news photography matured in the 1960s due in part to the demands of photographing the Vietnam War.

For my entire career photographing news and sports, I have thought again and again about doing more of my work on medium format film as a supplement to the day-to-day 35mm film product.

Medium format is a class of film sizes between 35mm and large format sheet film.

I tried it for a while in the 1990s with my Fujifilm GW670iii, and way back in the day at the Shawnee News-Star, with a Rolleiflex T and Mamiya C330.

I bought the Fujifilm in the early 1990s as kind of a “fine art” camera, but I also shot some news with it.

The Fuji was bulky, only had one focal length, made just 10 frames on a roll of 120 film, and created some fairly significant obstacles when shooting by not having a light meter in it, and by its skinny aperture and shutter dials mounted on the lens. In addition, it had a lot of plastic; I once had to send it away to fix the wind knob.

Rolleiflex T and Mamiya C330 were even more awkward to use with the waist-level viewfinder, which required a special skill set to shoot looking down into the viewfinder hood, where everything is reversed left-to-right.

Most 120 and other medium-format cameras have very cumbersome systems for loading film compared to the ease of 35mm.

But the good thing about these cameras is that the negatives I got from then were beautiful, with gorgeous detail and tonal qualities that 35mm never quite mastered.

One thing all these medium-format cameras have in common: by the time we got rid of them, they were garage-sale junk, but today are commanding very premium prices because they continue to get scarcer, and have found a niche with millenials, who seem willing to pay anything to be sometimes pretentiously edgy and/or nerdy.

I thought of this lately as I have been rewatching the amazing 10-part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which features a lot of news photography.

The parts are chronological, and if you put the images in context with other cameras and photographers in the scene, there is a very obvious change in the number, and quality, in these images. As news photography matured, it moved inexorably toward 35mm.

The fact that there were more images available was due to the fact that 35mm rolls can be 36 exposures in length, where medium format’s longest rolls were, depending on the camera, 15 frames.

And better quality? Wait, Richard, don’t you get better pictures with large film? Yes, you do, but the process slows you down too much for covering news (which is also a reason digital took the market away from film.) In many ways, quality in news photography is the quality of being there and getting an image.

When I left the Shawnee News-Star I should have bought or borrowed those TLR’s from the News-Star. My hope is that some collector has those cameras, and my fear is that they, like thousands or millions of old, perfectly good, cameras are gather dust in the bottom of a closet somewhere, or rusting at the bottom of the dump.

This is my Nikon F3 with my rare and excellent 25-50mm f/4 on it. I sold it about 15 years ago, and kinda miss it ever since.
This is my Nikon F3 with my rare and excellent 25-50mm f/4 on it. I sold it about 15 years ago, and kinda miss it ever since.

How to Process Film

Some film is destined for greatness. Some is destined for the trash heap, but not without first being photographed.
Some film is destined for greatness. Some is destined for the trash heap, but not without first being photographed.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine asked if I would consider writing about how to process your own film at home. I told her it was easier than she imagined.

In the business, processing film is called “souping,” and you “soup” film, and say, “it’s in the soup.”

To process your own film, black-and-white or color, you need…

• The film itself. This is becoming a scarce commodity, and freshly-manufactured film is getting very expensive.

• A darkroom or a dark bag, sometimes called a film changing bag. This is essentially a place to transfer your exposed film, in total darkness, onto a spiral reel (in the case of roll film) or a film holder (in the case of sheet film) before immersing your film in developer.

• Reels or holders, tanks, and a way to wash the film in running water. There are two kinds of reels: stainless steel reels, which are harder to use but easier to keep clean, and plastic reels, which are easier to use but tend to accumulate developer stains that are hard to remove and potentially contaminate the process.

• Chemicals. This item tends to be the most intimidating for beginners, since it can seem like alchemy or magic, but it’s not. Photographic chemicals require careful handling, but if you can read and understand basic instructions, using them isn’t any more difficult than making cookies.

• Black-and-white darkroom chemistry is the simplest, since it requires only a few steps, and is usually done at room temperature. The chemicals include developer, stop bath, fixer, and water for washing, and in our hard-water environment, a wetting agent like Kodak’s Photo-Flo.

• Color negative processing, called C-41, can seem more intimidating, but the number of steps for color negatives is the same. The main issue with color is the need to tightly control temperature, usually at approximately 100ºF. When I processed color all the time, my processing tanks sat in a bigger tank full of water with a temperature control unit in it, which automatically kept everything at 100º. The chemicals include developer, blix (a combinations of bleach and fixer) and stabilizer. Processing color slides can be more daunting because there are more steps (around 12, depending on who you ask), but the principals all remain the same.

• Putting film onto developing reels might be the hardest part of the process. You can practice using an exposed roll of film with the lights on, then practice with the lights off. Despite this, many photographers new to film will experience difficulty with this.

• Once your film is wound onto the developing reels, it should be placed, in total darkness, in the developer. Most film processing tanks have traps at the top that allow you to pour chemicals into and out of them while maintaining a seal against light. One way to work this is to place the film on the reel, put the reel in the tank, then pour developer in through the trap.

• Follow the instructions that came with your film or chemicals, or you can find good time and temperature recommendations here (link).

• After thoroughly washing your film, you’ll need a way to dry it. If you don’t have a dedicated film dryer, you can use a blow dryer on a medium setting, but be careful not to stir up too much dust. It will cling to the film and be difficult to remove later.

A note about chemicals: in my decades of processing film in various shared darkrooms, I can tell you that many people don’t realize how easy it is to contaminate chemicals with everything from other chemicals to food. Many people don’t seem to understand that clear liquids in photography might not be water. They get it on their fingers and transfer it to other containers or onto film, never with good results.

Over the years I experimented with all kinds of combinations of film and chemicals. Some of my favorite black-and-white films were Kodak Verichrome Pan Film (which was discontinued decades ago) and Ilford FP4. My favorite developers for black-and-white were Kodak HC-110 and Kodak D-76, and I had a soft spot in my heart for a fine-grained developer called Microdol-X.

Finally, I am of the opinion that if you scan your photographic negatives once you have them processed, they become digital photographs, somewhat rendering the idea of using film in the first place a moot point. If you really want to remain true to the roots of film photography, the final step almost has to be printing your images with an enlarger.

Increasingly rare and expensive, these rolls of Kodak color print film are currently out of a job, at least in my tool box, since I no longer have my own darkroom.
Increasingly rare and expensive, these rolls of Kodak color print film are currently out of a job, at least in my tool box, since I no longer have my own darkroom.

 

 

Film: Some Snapshots

These are a few frames from the mountain of film negatives I shot over the years before the advent of digital imaging.

Brother and sister Deb and Robert Stinson pose in the Art Department at the University of Oklahoma in 1984.
Brother and sister Deb and Robert Stinson pose in the Art Department at the University of Oklahoma in 1984.
I photographed Debbie Mociolek in March 1982 at her request. She was killed in a car accident just two weeks later at the age of 19.
I photographed Debbie Mociolek in March 1982 at her request. She was killed in a car accident just two weeks later at the age of 19.
My sister Nicole and her best friend Stacey pose with their Bruce Springsteen concert tickets in Dallas in September 1985.
My sister Nicole and her best friend Stacey pose with their Bruce Springsteen concert tickets in Dallas in September 1985.
Scott AndersEn and I photographed our combined Nikon equipment in his dorm room in late 1984.
Scott AndersEn and I photographed our combined Nikon equipment in his dorm room in late 1984.
Your host poses with Robert Stinson in my apartment in the early 1990s.
Your host poses with Robert Stinson in my apartment in the early 1990s.
Your host poses with Robert Stinson in my apartment in the early 1990s.
Your host poses with Robert Stinson in my apartment in the early 1990s.
Robert Stinson uses a tripod as we make pictures at my apartment in the early 1990s.
Robert Stinson uses a tripod as we make pictures at my apartment in the early 1990s.
Robert Stinson shows a photography student how to load the Nikon F4 with film.
Robert Stinson shows a photography student how to load the Nikon F4 with film.
Robert throws up his hands as he and I make pictures in downtown Ada in the late 1990s.
Robert throws up his hands as he and I make pictures in downtown Ada in the late 1990s.
Robert uses the 75-300mm f/4.5 lens on his Nikon F4 camera.
Robert uses the 75-300mm f/4.5 lens on his Nikon F4 camera.
Robert uses a tripod to photograph a flowing river in the Talihina area in 1984.
Robert uses a tripod to photograph a flowing river in the Talihina area in 1984.
Robert poses in his father's loft in Tulsa in the 1980s.
Robert poses in his father’s loft in Tulsa in the 1980s.
Robert enjoys dinner in his rooming house just off the University of Oklahoma in 1985.
Robert enjoys dinner in his rooming house just off the University of Oklahoma in 1985.
Robert and I photograph a young model named Masha in my apartment in 1999.
Robert and I photograph a young model named Masha in my apartment in 1999.
Robert and I photograph a young model named Masha in my apartment in 1999.
Robert and I photograph a young model named Masha in my apartment in 1999.
You host shoots a "selfie" before the word "selfie" was invented.
You host shoots a “selfie” before the word “selfie” was invented.
The author poses with the Ada High School Couganns dance team in the 1990s.
The author poses with the Ada High School Couganns dance team in the 1990s.
Scott AndersEn poses on railroad tracks near him suburban Chicago home in 1987.
Scott AndersEn poses on railroad tracks near him suburban Chicago home in 1987.
Scott AndersEn washes his car at his suburban Chicago home in 1987.
Scott AndersEn washes his car at his suburban Chicago home in 1987.

Film: My Time at The Daily Times

I worked for a short time at The Daily Times in Ottawa, Illinois,  in 1988, with a very talented young photographer named Harold Krewer. We often challenged each other to feature photo shoot-offs, and it raised us both up in quality, and it was very fun.

Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/1.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/1.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5

Film: My Time at the University of Oklahoma

R.E. Stinson works in the Copeland Hall darkroom at the University of Oklahoma in 1984.

I worked in Student Publications at the University of Oklahoma in 1983, 1984, and early 1985, where I met some very talented artists and photographers, notable R. E. Stinson and Scott AndersEn, with whom I am friends to this day.

I photographed Melissa on a number of occasions, like this image in 1984. She was a natural in front of the camera, but she and I were never a good fit for a relationship. We made this image on a winter day when she came to OU with me from Oklahoma State, where she lived in the ZTA sorority house. I shot it on Kodak Plus-X Pan Film with my 105mm f/2.5, lit with a single flash into a reflector over my left shoulder.
I photographed Melissa on a number of occasions, like this image in 1984. She was a natural in front of the camera, but she and I were never a good fit for a relationship. We made this image on a winter day when she came to OU with me from Oklahoma State, where she lived in the ZTA sorority house. I shot it on Kodak Plus-X Pan Film with my 105mm f/2.5, lit with a single flash into a reflector over my left shoulder.

We shared darkroom facilities at Copeland Hall in the School of Journalism. Because many student journalists shared the darkroom, it was frequently full. There were two small, light-tight rooms for film processing, and around a corner through a black curtain was the room with five enlargers in it. Only one of the enlargers, which you can see in the image above, had a color head on it, so if you wanted to use it, you waited in line or showed up in the middle of the night.

I talked about these days before (link), but I chose this entry to include my entire black-and-white portfolio from college.

Chemicals were often contaminated, since young photographers often didn’t understand the difference between developer and fixer, or why you can’t “back contaminate,” so I brought my own chemicals.

I frequently found myself mentoring pretty college girls, hoping to kindle some romance, and took a few out, though none of those efforts lasted.

I found I preferred working for the Sooner Yearbook rather than the OU Daily, thinking I was making higher-quality, longer-lasting work. I preferred Microdol-X film developer, with the idea that I was making sharper, finer-grained images.

I helped Liz Stocks process film and print on a couple of occasions. We went out once, to see The Breakfast Club in a theater.
I helped Liz Stocks process film and print on a couple of occasions. We went out once, to see The Breakfast Club in a theater.
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 50mm f/1.2
Photo by Richard R. Barron 50mm f/1.2
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/2.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 200mm f/4
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 28mm f/2.8

 

 

Film: My Time at The Shawnee News-Star

This is the tiny, filthy, smokey darkroom I shared with Ed Blochowiak at The Shawnee News-Star for two and a half years.
This is the tiny, filthy, smokey darkroom I shared with Ed Blochowiak at The Shawnee News-Star for two and a half years.

I was the swing-shift photographer at The Shawnee News-Star from November 1985 through April 1988. I was partnered with a talented former Vietnam Air Force member Ed Blochowiak. Between us we made some great images and won some awards. Ed spent his entire career at the News-Star, and, sadly, died just two months after retiring in October 2016.

Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 35mm f/2.0
Photo by Richard R. Barron 24mm f/2.0
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 24mm f/2.0
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 24mm f/2.0
Photo by Richard R. Barron 105mm f/1.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300 mm f/4.5
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 180mm f/2.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 300mm f/4.5
105mm f/1.8
Photo by Richard R. Barron 24mm f/2.0

Film: Ada Cougar Football State Championship 1988

Richard R. Barron | The Ada News

I had been at The Ada Evening News (now, The Ada News) just six weeks when I photographed the Ada Cougars winning their 15th state championship in December 1988 at Oklahoma State University’s Lewis Field.

Most of the action and trophy photos were published in the sports section that Sunday. I was looking through a box of black-and-white negatives from that month and decided to write my column about scanning film, and scan many of these images, which have not been published since that time.

Richard R. Barron | The Ada News
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News

Large Format is the Wild West of Photography

My ambitious young photographer friend Mac Crosby came by the office earlier this week, at my invitation, so I could lend her a Minolta X-700 and a couple of lenses, as well as a couple of antique 620 cameras. Readers might recall that Mac wrote a neat piece about my wife Abby and me for class last March (link).

Photographer Mac Crosby looks at some of the thousands of 4x5 negatives on file at my newspaper.
Photographer Mac Crosby looks at some of the thousands of 4×5 negatives on file at my newspaper.

In recent months, Mac has been curating film photography into her body of work as an aspiring photojournalist, and that has included disposable cameras, 35mm film cameras, medium format cameras, and even toy cameras. Photography with toy cameras is sometimes called lomography.

One thing I showed her while she was here at the office is some of the thousands of 4×5-inch black-and-white negatives we have in our files at The Ada News.

4×5 negatives are about 15 times larger than 35mm film frames, so they potentially contain a tremendous amount of detail. In fact, 4×5 negatives are large enough that they can be printed as contact prints, in which the film is laid directly on the printing paper and exposed to light, skipping the step of putting the film in an enlarger.

I lent my friend and fellow photographer Mac Crosby this Minolta X-700, a 35mm film camera from the late 1980s. I hope she dazzles me with the results she gets with it.
I lent my friend and fellow photographer Mac Crosby this Minolta X-700, a 35mm film camera from the late 1980s. I hope she dazzles me with the results she gets with it.

If 35mm film is common and medium format film is exotic, 4×5 film is the Wild West of photography.

I’ve never owned a 4×5 camera. I do have a photographer friend, Robert in Tulsa, who has a Burke and James 4×5 field camera. A field camera differs from a view camera in that it uses a viewfinder instead of a focusing hood or cloth. If you have ever seen the movie Flags of Our Fathers, the character of Joe Rosenthal uses a 4×5 field camera to photograph the raising of the second U.S. flag on Iwo Jima.

As Mac and I talked about film photography, she said she’d like to see what I could do with film, and I pointed out that in the very office in which she sat were literally hundreds of thousands of film frames I made during my career, from when I started at The Ada News in October 1988 until about the middle of 2005, when I had enough digital cameras to get the job done, and when the film scanner of 1998 vintage finally died.

I also told Mac that if she gets a chance to use a darkroom in her travels or education, I’d be glad to tag along and throw in my expertise. I’d also extend that invitation to anyone who wants to learn about how a darkroom works. It’s pretty amazing that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but I can tell you exactly how to process a roll of film.

Three children use a water pump in this image made on 4x5 inch sheet film. The film is from an envelope marked, “Oakman Homecoming, Published Oct. 21, 1954, in weekly.” That means that the children in this image are in their 70s now.
Three children use a water pump in this image made on 4×5 inch sheet film. The film is from an envelope marked, “Oakman Homecoming, Published Oct. 21, 1954, in weekly.” That means that the children in this image are in their 70s now.

Most Popular Camera Ever?

The beautifully-made Canon AE-1 Program camera sits in my home studio recently.
The beautifully-made Canon AE-1 Program camera sits in my home studio recently.

A friend of mine recently asked me to look over an older film camera of his. He told me he had grown up making pictures with it. I I told him I would be happy to look it over, and to drop it by my office. I wasn’t surprised when the that camera showed up the next day was a Canon AE-1 Program, one of the most popular cameras ever made.

The battery for the Canon AE-1 Program sits inside a door on the front of the camera.
The battery for the Canon AE-1 Program sits inside a door on the front of the camera.

Before I go on, let me say that I’m not usually a “they don’t build them like they used to” guy, since technology has swept us away with all kinds of advancement, from the smartphone to the self-diagnosing car engine, but on this occasion, well… they just don’t build them like they used to.

The Canon AE-1 Program came from an era of rapid advancement in camera design, and includes some very advanced technology in it, but it also inherited the build quality, fit, and finish of the handmade and hand-assembled era of camera development.

The shutter speed dial can be set to program which, in combination with setting the aperture ring on the lens to "A" will allow the camera to set both shutter speed and aperture.
The shutter speed dial can be set to program which, in combination with setting the aperture ring on the lens to “A” will allow the camera to set both shutter speed and aperture.

The AE-1 Program followed the AE-1, which was probably the most popular camera ever sold in the film era. The “Program” was a piece of tech that allowed the camera to pick both the shutter speed and the aperture, and was the first of that feature to be introduced.

In-hand, this camera has a big-camera feel. In contrast to almost any digital camera today, it is heavy. The corners and grips of the camera are fairly conventional, and the controls are laid out nicely. I can pick up a camera like this and immediately start using it.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but most 50mm lenses are. They are easy and cheap to make, and are capable of making great images.
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but most 50mm lenses are. They are easy and cheap to make, and are capable of making great images.

I cleaned it up with a soft toothbrush and some canned air. It had a fair amount of back-of-the-closet dust on it. This particular one seemed to run just fine. The shutter and aperture cycled like they should. Focus on the 50mm f/1.8 lens, a fine piece of glass that every Canon owner had during that era, was smooth and accurate. The only thing I could find wrong with it was the light seals – the foam rubber in the slots on the film door – was dry and cracked, which could cause light leaks, especially in bright sunlight.

If my friend is willing to buy film then have it processed and scanned or printed, his Canon AE-1 Program is ready for the job.

The Canon AE-1 Program is shown with its lens removed.
The Canon AE-1 Program is shown with its lens removed.

Experiments Keep Us Moving Forward

In my last post, I talked about buying a nice used mirrorless camera and some adaptors so I could experiment with older lenses. It got me thinking about some of the very first images, and very first experiments, I tried.

I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.
I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.

Ignorance is bliss, and some of my most successful early photographic experiments wouldn’t have happened if an expert had told me why they wouldn’t work. One, for example, is one I tried with a garage-sale Exa camera of 1962 vintage. I was drawn to it by it’s beautifully-made all-metal Exacta removable / interchangeable lens. It was the only lens I had for it, but it occured to me as I watched how the focus mechanism moved the lens farther from the film to focus closer that if I could move it ever farther from the film, I could focus even closer.

Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.
Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.

In the world of photographic equipment, this is done with a device called an extension tube, which mounts between the camera and the lens. I didn’t have one, and I was 15, so the only money I had was a few bucks from mowing a few lawns, and my allowance. So I decided to put the cardboard core from a used-up toilet paper roll between the camera and the lens. It worked!

This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.
This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.

Most lenses aren’t designed to focus close, and neither was the 1960s-era Exacta. The images I got have a dream-like softness about them, and are loaded with vignetting, which is darkening of the edges of the frame. The vignetting was so dominant that my mother called the images “vignettes.”

Experimenting with the creative aspects of photography goes so far beyond camera and lens reviews and specifications. Sometimes I can get better, more interesting, more compelling images with a broken camera, a toy camera, or an ancient camera.

This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.
This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.

Imaging Today and in the Film Era

This 2001 Ilford FP-4 Plus film image of a mesa in northwestern New Mexico is an excellent example of the kind of tonal quality film can produce.
This 2001 Ilford FP-4 Plus film image of a mesa in northwestern New Mexico is an excellent example of the kind of tonal quality film can produce.

Sometimes when I remember events in my life from when I was younger, I wonder why I didn’t take as many photos as I imagine I should have. I am, after all, a professional photographer, and I should have been the one to document that ski trip in 1990, that nighttime glow-in-the-dark Frisbee game, that beautiful 105mm lens I sold.

So why didn’t I take all those pictures back in the film era?

  • It wasn’t like that back then. Digital photography, particularly smartphone photograph, has created the misperception that we all need a thousand photos of our lives every day, and if you aren’t photographing every meal and every sunset, you are a flip-phone neo-Luddite.
  • Shooting lots of frames equalled expensive processing, or in my case, laborious darkroom work. It’s easy to forget that one of digital photography’s most revolutionary aspects is its affordability. You can shoot 10 or 100 or a 1000 images, with very little added cost. Have you priced a roll of film and the price to get it developed lately? It was expensive in 1990, too.
  • I actually was taking a lot of pictures. If I shot 20 frames at a friend’s birthday party, his wife might have shot three frames with her point-and-shoot.

I often feel this way about the slim number of electives I took in high school. I see kids today active in sports, farm and ranch, yearbook, web development, cheer, and more, and wonder why I wasn’t. But, it wasn’t like that back then. My school allowed one non-academic elective, and for me, it was yearbook.

Before there was Lightroom, there was the light table, which allowed us to look at our film and edit it.
Before there was Lightroom, there was the light table, which allowed us to look at our film and edit it.

I want to marry these thoughts with a trend I have been observing recently…

There is a huge hipster/millenial move right now toward shooting film. I certainly find any efforts to amp our creativity to new levels very laudable. I don’t, however, think shooting film is the way I want to go, and here’s why…

  • If you are scanning your film to create a digital product, you are shooting digitally. The only way to shoot completely analog is to develop your film and print your film using an enlarger. Doing otherwise creates an unnecessary and wasteful step in creating a digital image.
  • Photographers are feeling out-competed by a crowded market, and want to step aside and be thought of as geniuses or magicians again. I feel this, too. Rank amateurs are learning to photograph the Milky Way by watching YouTube tutorials, taking that away from professionals.
  • When digital arrived on the scene in the late 1990s, it was the solution to all the problems we faced with film. With film, grain was obvious at even modest ISO settings, film stuck us with one ISO setting for each roll or film, film faced the possibility of accidental exposure ruining film or paper, film required a time-consuming process that created pollutants, film only allowed a limited ability to review images in the field (Polaroids) and and film had a higher-than-digital cost per frame.
  • Some photographers claim they like the “look” of film. But photographers almost always make some kind of “look” edit in software to their scanned film files, usually in a way they could do better with an original digital file.
This is a film scan from December 1999. At that time in our newspaper's history, we were able to use color photos a couple of times a week, and they required a little bit of planning, so I at a basketball game I might shoot one roll of color film alongside eight rolls of black-and-white.
This is a film scan from December 1999. At that time in our newspaper’s history, we were able to use color photos a couple of times a week, and they required a little bit of planning, so I at a basketball game I might shoot one roll of color film alongside eight rolls of black-and-white.

It’s absolutely true that I made many great images on photographic film during the first half of my career, but it is equally true that I heard many great songs on AM radio when I was growing up, but I haven’t tuned to an AM radio station to listen to music in 20 years.

I feel convinced that this hipster movement is just a fad. I’m certainly glad that someone out there is having fun with film, I am aware that there are reasons to keep film alive, and I am in possession of a number of great film cameras in good working order. But there are very few new film cameras being made, film is getting harder to obtain and more expensive, and when was the last time you used an enlarger to make prints in a real darkroom?

I made this black-and-white film image at Palo Duro Canyon in May 2002. It was one of the last times I shot film on a hiking trip.
I made this black-and-white film image at Palo Duro Canyon in May 2002. It was one of the last times I shot film on a hiking trip.

If you feel like you are struggling creatively, maybe you don’t need either film or a new digital camera. Maybe you need to find a narrative. You need to take your imaging from technical recording to storytelling. You need to push the limits of fundamentals like light and composition. Nothing between your hands will inspire you as much as anything in your heart.

I bought a cheap knockoff of a "Lensball" last year, hoping it would bring something new to my imaging options. At $17, there's really no down side to it.
I bought a cheap knockoff of a “Lensball” last year, hoping it would bring something new to my imaging options. At $17, there’s really no down side to it.