How The Light Gets In

Things have been a bit hectic since last I blogged but I have been shooting a lot, so apologies in advance for the flurry of images in this post. Hopefully I can at least share some of my new work with a smidge of coherence.

First up, I was really lucky to be given the opportunity to test the new SX-70 Gen 2.0 films from Impossible, which was pretty exciting for me because I’m usually the last person to get around to trying new formulas. What was doubly nice about is that I got to test them out on a shoot with Faye who is always one of my favourite people to photograph. We scored a bit with the weather that day as it was nice and bright, which creates the optimum conditions for Polaroid. I’m very much into colours as a photographer so it was great to see such saturation in this new film, whilst producing lovely skin tones too. I shot both outdoors and indoors using the natural light and found the film to be really effective in both settings.

The black and white film has a very strong contrast but it is still very malleable. I don’t really like films that only give you the one ‘look’ because like using the same editing technique over and over, that gets very boring. Thankfully this film is able to be played with to create different results. I found that it was able to give me strong blacks and whites in bright light, but with a few adjustments on the camera in different lighting conditions it can still retain detail in the image. It also develops super fast – Faye and I even tried to (unsuccessfully) film one shot developing before our eyes. I’d say the final image appeared fully developed in roughly 3 – 4 minutes.

You can see more of the images I shot with these films (with Faye) here –  

Aside from catching up with Faye and planning our next few creative endeavours – OMG, watch this space. I’ve been experimenting a lot in the darkroom with printing. I’ve learned how to do colour printing which is a lot more complicated than simple black and white printing is, but the layering process is something that I’ve discovered opens up more ideas for being creative. Like all new photographic processes that I learn on my own, the first thing I do is nail the ‘correct’ way of doing it, then once I’ve tackled that, I play around with it ‘incorrectly’. All of the prints I make are one-offs and have come about purely from just messing around and seeing what happens. Sometimes I have a general idea in mind of where I want something to go, but mostly I find it more fun to not know where an image is going to end up. This is one such print that I made from some negatives which I didn’t like the look of as they were. Sometimes perfectly exposed and printed images can be just too boring, so after several layering and a little bit of a clean-up in Photoshop, I made this dipytch of Faye.

Red is my favourite colour and I’ve found at the moment, I’m really enjoying playing around with mirroring images and symmetry, either by creating that effect manually in the camera or manipulating them in post. The original image this print was made from is actually a landscape portrait where Faye’s hand is in shot and I was working with the full image for ages, until purely by chance I covered one side of the image whilst adjusting the negatives and I found the new framing a lot more interesting. This was when I was just about to hit the wall from frustration at not liking what I was making, so it shows that a little perseverance can occasionally pay off.

I’m not great at explaining technical details so apologies if this all sounds a wee bit incomprehensible. I get many emails asking me about how this-and-that image was created, so this is my best attempt at describing what I do. I think the best thing is not to get too caught up in worrying about what you use, there’s just how you want an image to look and the method for doing so really isn’t important. Even though I don’t like using digital cameras (I love other people’s digital work, just not my own) digitising photographs is still a massive part of my work, and Photoshop is involved with everything from scanning to post. Most of the time I can’t even really tell someone how exactly I made one of my more creative prints because I simply don’t remember the exact process.

The great thing about film is that there are times when you don’t even have to worry about manipulating it before or after because it’s brimmed full of its own wonderful ‘editing’ techniques. I was away at the weekend and had packed some Polaroid film for shooting self-portraits, unfortunately our hotel room was much smaller than expected – including the window – and so, I had a tiny pool of light to work with. I do the same thing each time I’m shooting indoors, in that I look around to see where the natural light is collecting. This area is where I will then focus on placing myself and figuring out where the light will hit me most flatteringly. I’m 5ft 11in so I struggle in small places and I guess that’s why when faced with them, I cut my head off in the shot or focus on body parts. This time I was trying to get as much of me in the shot as I possibly could, without it looking like I was squeezed into it.

The first shot that I took confirmed that the light was bright enough despite the small room and window, and also the Spectra film I was using managed to make the awful brown carpet look much more interesting. I moved at the last minute because I was considering which side of my face would be better for the direction of the light, which in the end created the nice feeling of movement in the image. I was a bit excited about these red tones because they reminded me of the famous Playboy photographs of Marilyn Monroe when she was still Norma Jean. Obviously that was the only resemblance otherwise I would be quite happy having my face in every image if I looked like her! This patch of floor was really the only part of the room worth shooting in so I shot the rest of the pack quite rapidly after seeing the sort of look that the film was producing, and I also dialed down the light/dark setting on my camera a wee bit to reduce the very bright contrast.

You can see more of the images from this little series on my self-portrait gallery. 🙂

I also made some self-portraits using one of the expired Silver Shade formulas, which are still in my favourites when it comes to the old Impossible formulas. In my experience, this film is a lot more adaptable to low light. I’ve used it at night with just a table lamp as a light source on my body, and it’s created lovely bubbly grainy images. This time I was using it around dusk with very low natural light again, from the window. I really like the Image System camera for the multiple exposure capabilities and this film is really receptive to those. If I’m making a simple double exposure image where I want to work with two ‘versions’ of myself in the image – one at the left side and one at the right side – then the first image I shoot with the dark setting down to one notch. Then I would move to the opposite side and dial the dark setting down to one more notch. Indoors there is a little less to worry about in terms of over-exposing, because the light can be a lot less directional and bright.

This Polaroid was shot very quickly following the very simple process that I just described.

If you want to shoot something a bit more experimental using double or multiple exposures, one of my favourites is to create silhouettes whereby you can then fill the silhouette with something else – flowers are always a popular choice with this method. The first image I take is of whatever it is I want to fill my silhouette with. In my garden we have a tree with long vines and acorns or buds on them, so my first shot was of that with the light/dark setting untouched because I was using colour film and the tree was a little bit in the dark. The second shot I then dialed the light/dark setting up one notch and I placed myself against the sunlight so that the camera would be shooting into it. This ensures that I am a silhouette with no detail other than the bright light around me.

For a reverse result of this kind of double exposure where perhaps you want detail in the face, do the same thing but in reverse. So you shoot the portrait of yourself first but this time with the light on your face and the sun behind the camera so that you are exposed correctly. And then the second image will be taken to layer over that. I did this using a patch of daisies in the grass which resulted in a lovely pastel Polaroid.

The main thing to consider when using Polaroid is always the light. I think it really shows if you don’t understand light and it’s why a lot of people don’t end up with the best results. Impossible films are completely different from original Polaroid films, and the more that you use them, the more familiar you will become with their quirks. I learned how to photograph from using these films so I guess I know them very well now and the thought process is second nature. That said, I still make mistakes, but in doing so I always learn from it what to do when taking the next shot. I don’t think you can learn anything if you don’t make mistakes along the way, and they should encourage you to keep on with whatever it is that you’re doing. 🙂

About elegia

I like cats and cake and tea.

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