If you’ve been following my work for any amount of time, then you probably already know that I have been shooting film exclusively for the last three and a half years. More specifically, 6x17cm (medium format panoramic) film. I love the look of film and I love the 3:1 aspect ratio. It forces me to work slower (which is sometimes incredibly frustrating when I’m pressed for time and the good light is fading) and really focus on only capturing the best compositions and light ($4 per click for film and development will do that to you!). And of course, I love how large film and a large format lens allow me to make huge, sharp prints to hang on my walls.
Shooting film also encourages me to remain more faithful to the original scene during processing than I would with a digital camera since I can see the original transparency right in front of me on the light table to use as a guide. I find that most of my favorite landscape photos were taken 10+ years ago when everyone was shooting film and post-processing techniques were much less polished. Photographs just looked more natural than most of what we are all producing today.
Anyway, I’m assuming it’s pretty obvious that this image wasn’t taken on film. If you couldn’t tell just from looking at it, the EXIF info should give that away. While I love film, it does have its limitations. First of all, I simply can’t take star shots with film unless I want star trails. My G617 has a fixed lens that only opens up to f/8 and high-ISO film is way too grainy to use if you want sharp images.
I had a photographer buddy of mine invite me on a trip with him to take night photos in Cathedral Valley at the end of May. I agreed to come along, but I knew that my gear was pretty much worthless for night photos, so I decided to invest in some newer digital equipment. I picked up a used Nikon D600 (yes it had the dust issue, but Nikon also allowed me to send it in for cleaning and it seems to have been staying clean lately) and a couple used lenses: a Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 ai (well worth the $100!) and a Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8. I already had a 50mm f/1.8 and a 28-80mm lens, so I was covered. I figured I’d use the 24mm for the night sky photos and the 80-200mm would be my main lens to stitch panos with. Now, if I need to travel lightweight, but still want to take sharp, 100MP panoramas, I no longer need to lug my G617 around.
You may have noticed that my last few posts have all been digital. I’ve been using this setup to stitch panoramas and I really like it, even if it is a pain to visualize how the final stitch will turn out when you’re out in the field. I still plan on using film for the shots I really, really want, but with film prices continuing to rise and drum scans costing $50-80 per image, I can really cut back on costs by doing more digital stitching.
Now, if you’re still with me – here’s the background on this image. I woke up before sunrise to shoot one morning and on my walk over to the Temple of the Sun, I took this pano of the Temple of the Moon. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until later that I had been shooting at ISO 4000. Ha! What a bonehead mistake. I’d been shooting film so long, that I didn’t even think to check the ISO setting before I started shooting. I just remember thinking “wow, it must be brighter out here than I realized because these are some fast shutter speeds!” Well, at least I learned that lesson on a photo I wasn’t too crazy about.
Last night, as I was looking through my images from this trip, I noticed that series of photos still waiting to be stitched. I also noticed some night sky images I had taken several hours before. I figured that since the panorama would be too noisy to use in my portfolio, I’d just have some fun with it. I took the panorama and cooled it down a lot to give it a night-time look. I then took a night sky image facing the same direction from a few hours earlier and replaced the sky (something I would generally frown upon). I’ve been seeing all sorts of people use this technique lately to allow them to have both the stars and detail in the foreground, and I have to admit, it came out kind of cool. Cathedral Valley really is an incredible location.
I’m not sure about the image brightness though. Any thoughts? Is it too bright? Too dark?