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Wednesday, June 20

Soul Survivor

Here's another shot off the first roll I exposed in the Mamiya Press. You might remember the big, threatening cloud from the earlier pic? If this had been a digital shot, I'd have cloned out the scrubby bushes to the left of the single tree. See what's so great terrible about digital? It can turn you into a big liar, photographically-speaking. The temptation can be overwhelming, even for the most honest of photographers. I did it all the time when I was using digital cameras.
“Digital photography can be a totally lying experience - you can move what you want, the whole thing can’t be trusted really." Don McCullin.
That single tree preoccupied me a great deal when sizing up this scene. It was the main reason for taking the photograph but it was difficult getting it in the right place. The idea, which was obvious enough, was to show a sole (we'll forget about the clonable shrubs for this exercise) survivor threatened by the massive bully of a cloud.

If you want to get more fanciful, you can imagine a battle taking place in the heavens between the forces of light represented by the bright sky attempting to shine from behind the cloud and the brooding, malevolent presence of the rain-filled storm cloud. The prize? The soul of that little tree.

Having massively over-egged the pudding, we'll return to earth. Since the tree wasn't exactly isolated, I had to do what I could to make it stand out. Twenty yards to the left or right changed the tree's relationship to the bushes quite a bit since they're at different distances from the camera. The further left I moved, the bigger the distance between tree and shrubs.

What also helped make the tree more prominent was placing it at the lowest point of the two rising pieces of land either side of it. If you poured a huge bucket of water over the skyline of that landscape, it would drain away at the foot of the tree.

When it comes to making a print, I think I might dodge the sky behind the tree just a bit to make the dark branches stand out more. It would also be possible to slightly darken the sky behind the bushes with some burning in through a grade 0 filter to encourage them to sink into the background.

The negative I scanned for this post was one of three I took. It might not sound much but when you've only got eight shots it's almost half a film! The others have the shrubs closer to the tree and the subject is no longer at the lowest point on the skyline. It makes quite a difference.

I mentioned in the previous post about the Mamiya Press that I rated the roll of HP5 at 800 ISO (or an EI of 800 if you want to be pedantic) with the intention of developing it in Microphen stock. The good news with this combination is that, even though it's only a one-stop push, I can see no effect on shadow detail at all and the highlights are well controlled.

The not so good news is the amount of grain that I can see in the scans. The negatives don't look too bad at all from that perspective but scanning them and then burning in the sky in Photoshop really emphasises the grain. Whether it's just the process or some grain aliasing I don't know but it confirms what I've always felt - that a scan makes a negative look about as bad as it possibly can be.


Dave Jenkins said...

You are on a roll (so to speak), Bruce.

Herman Sheephouse said...

That'll print up beautifully Bruce - no faffing, just a straight print, possibly Grade 3. It won't spoil the delicate glow you have going on, but will lift highlights a bit.

Scanning does over-emphasise grain in my experience.

Well done!

Guy Bisson said...

I like the bushes...makes it look like a mother tree protecting her young. Single tree would have been too camera club stereotype!

normusarms said...

I like it with part of the right hand side cropped off to form a square.

Bruce Robbins said...

Yes, that's a good crop. I'll check it out at the printing stage.

MartyNL said...

Some fine posts and photo’s Bruce, keep them coming!

andy nutter said...

Great shot Bruce. Its a classic little and large shot . The tiny tree and the big angry face in the cloud. Well spotted. Seeing something in nothing separates a photographer from.......................

DavidM said...

I was re-reading your quote of Don McCullin's comments on digital photography. The late Josef Stalin, evidently an enthusiastic patron of the darkroom arts, was well-known for having photographs adjusted to suit contemporaneous reality. What has changed is not the fact of modification, but the ease with which it may be done.

John Carter said...

I have a Mamiya Super 23. I love the images, the RF is right on for f 3.5 work, no light leaks, but I still screw up one image a roll. I either leave the darkslide in and don't notice, or forget to wind causing double exposure. There are other ways to mess up, but those are my favorites. I thought I'd become more proficient with the camera but haven't.

I do have instructions taped to the back of the camera to eliminate goofs, but hubris gets the best of me and I fly solo rather then follow my own instructions. I wonder if I took yoga, would that help?

Bruce Robbins said...

I know what you mean about cock-ups. I've had one "complete" film out of four so far - one blank frame on each of the others. Sadly, that's 12.5% of the total number of frames on a roll or the same as 4.5 frames on a 36 exposure roll. Ouch!

Yes, it's always been possible to alter photographs but film and digital aren't the same. If only an expert forger was capable of producing a convincing forgery then the average person would never be in a position to use counterfeit notes and confidence in money would be largely unaffected. If convincing forged notes could be printed by an inkjet printer then many people would be doing it and confidence in money would evaporate.