I have written before about photographing Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. John’s Catholic Chapel. The student organization that sponsors these Masses has appreciated my work, and had me back again earlier this month for All Souls’ Day.
In my previous post I wrote something about not being satisfied with the way I had captured the decisive liturgical moment. By now I know the lighting in the church well enough to set exposure and forget it, and as I prepared I was thinking less about gear and more about finding the crucial (no pun intended) moments. I’m much more satisfied with this pair of images, particularly the second one, than I have been with most of the others I’ve taken. The more familiar you are with both your gear and your subject, the less you are distracted by technical details from making expressive images.
While I was still shooting my way through a roll of Ektar 100, I decided it had been too long since I had strolled around the northernmost part of campus, unofficially called the “Beckman Quad” because of the Beckman Institute on its northern edge. The walk gave me a chance to see how Ektar handled contrasty midday light.
Here is the upper façade of the new Electrical Engineering building, which I think looks much better from the inner (quad) side than from the street. The architect evidently wanted commonality in difference by cladding the building in red-orange metal or plastic, instead of the customary red or orange brick.
The colors are punchy and dramatic but not inaccurate, and the shadows are pleasantly neutral.
I first experienced the University of Illinois through a tour of the Beckman Institute when I was a sophomore in high school. Because of that tour, the use of advanced technology to investigate complex problems on the frontiers of knowledge dominates all my other perceptions of the University, and I have a particular affection for the Beckman building.
Shortly after the Siebel Center was dedicated, a pair of large sculptures were set up on either side of the walkway to its north. This one, called the “House of Imagination,” makes me think of a computer-age Stonehenge.
The one quibble that can be made against this image is a heavy blue cast in the shadows. Now, most shadows under clear skies are blue; after all, they’re being lit by diffuse blue light from the sky. Still, the blue shift here is a bit excessive, and I probably should have added a little extra exposure.
Here’s a pure reaction shot. I lay down on the ground inside the ring of three pillars, and as I brought my camera to my eye I saw the cloud tuck itself neatly in position. I made about five other frames, attempting to grab different configurations of cloud and sculpture, but none of them were as good.
Just as I was with Portra 400, I’m hooked after one roll of Ektar 100. The colors are beautiful, the grain is ridiculously fine, and it’s a lot of fun to shoot. I’ll probably stick with Portra as my all-purpose film, but the next time I want to shoot some landscapes or sunsets on film, I think I’ll reach for the Ektar.
With my Portra finished, it was time to try Ektar 100. Google and the Flickr groups for its users suggested that Ektar is much more finicky and should be metered like slide film, that it has love-it-or-hate-it-color, and that its strong reds make it less desirable for people, particularly Zone VI people.
Well, I like saturated color sometimes, my F100’s meter appears to be working just fine, and I don’t mind using my lens on inanimate subjects. Let’s go.
First up was my neighbor’s front yard. One might get the impression that he doesn’t like Illinois winters, and one would be right: he’s originally from New Mexico.
Good color, punchy but not cartoonish, and lovely tones on an overcast day.
Yellow/blue is one of my favorite color combinations, and I couldn’t resist this leaf on the hood of my car. Maybe I could have placed focus better, but again I have no complaints about the film: colors are great, grain is great, tones are great.
I was down to my last couple of frames when I went to get some coffee at the little café in the CS building. I took this one none too soon; about 5 seconds later, a barista had to grab one of the cups on the left and so destroyed this little bit of whimsical skewness.
The light here is a bizarre mix of incandescent and LEDs that tend towards daylight, with some daylight fill from a curtain window behind and left. Ektar appears to have taken the mix of color temperatures in stride, and certainly the lab that scanned my film did a good job correcting color.
So far so good. What else can Ektar do? Stay tuned.
The conventional wisdom has it that Portra, like other color negative films with neutral characteristics, shouldn’t be used for nature. I try not to be a slave to conventional wisdom, and in fact, Portra is great with natural subjects, including fall color:
For comparison I went back to the second tree with Ektar; we’ll see that shot in a couple of posts. I don’t see a problem with the color in either of these frames, and if I want more saturation, well, both Portra and Ektar were designed to scan easily as part of a hybrid film/digital workflow. Lightroom makes it dead easy to tweak color.
My two attempts at street photography had lovely tones but were horrible photographs; I mention them only because, had I used my brain, Portra would not have stood in my way. :) Architecture in progress looks good too, as Green Street’s urban canyon gets longer:
So does some Crab Rangoon from a farewell luncheon for a co-worker:
After one roll I’m hooked. Portra 400 is fast, has fine grain, great color, great skin tones, good sharpness (any unsharpness is my fault and not the film’s), and responds well when rated a little bit slower than the box says. It’s a great all-purpose color film whose only drawback is that it’s more expensive than some of the alternatives. I look forward to shooting more of it as time and money permit.