Oh yes, when we last saw our hero he was leaving Fargo, North Dakota, and setting off for a summer job unlike many others. He had been to England and Portugal, and had finished the academic semester in Fargo. Now, back to the action…
This project grew out of my summer spent with the US Air Force. As a reservist, I report for duty one weekend every month and an additional 15 days each year. This summer, due to a shortage on the base, I was tasked for an additional 100 days over the summer months, and I planned to create a body of work representing the time spent there, documenting the daily comings and goings. Using a compact film camera, I shot roll after roll of film as I worked and traveled throughout the country.
“Summer Job” – Minneapolis, MN
“Preparation” – Denver, CO
“Red Light” – Provo, UT
“Cold Weather Issue” – Minneapolis, MN
If you are interested in more of the project that I worked on over the summer, or to see the complete selection of images and the book that was created, you can do that here. The project was something different for me, and helped me to learn about creating, starting, finishing, and editing a project. The photographs, in their finished form, tell a story that many people do not see and do not have access to. Photographically, it was a great learning experience for me.
Following my time in Fargo, ND, and the summer spent working with the Air Force, I moved back to the Twin Cities. I spent time with family, back in what I consider to be my hometown, doing the things that I enjoy here.
“Transaction” – Minneapolis, MN
“Watching” – Minneapolis, MN
Enjoying life, and relishing the little visual moments that I came across…I realized that it’s the little things that sometimes make good images.
“Family” – Minneapolis, MN
“Topless” – Saint Paul, MN
Anna Maria Island
The small island on the Gulf coast of Florida has been a destination for my family for decades. This year, I brought my recently-acquired Hasselblad to see if I could force myself out of my comfort zone and shot portraits, and used the square format, to see what I could come up with.
“Hannah” – Anna Maria Island, FL
I learned that despite varying format and equipment, I still see the world in a certain way. As a result, I take a certain kind of images. This was reassuring to know, as it tells me that I am–slowly, but surely–developing a personal style of photography. Or maybe the style has always been there, just under the surface; now I know how to tap into it and I am more finely attuned to recognizing it.
“Approaching Storm” – Anna Maria Island, FL
“Untitled” (from the project Floridians) – Anna Maria Island, FL
The annual tradition, in which my family descends upon a small resort for the last week in July in the scorching Florida sun, returned for it’s (for me) fifth successive year. My family has been going the same week, to the same resort far longer. It wasn’t until this year that I began to see the place in a new light, visually. A new project–which I am tentatively calling Flordians–began to take shape, though this project is far from finished. It may not even be fully conceptualized at this point, but the seed is germinating in my mind at this point, and I’m interested to see where it goes in the future.
Saint Paul Cathedral
The second major project I finished in 2012 was my long-term project dealing with the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Named for the saint, and not the city in which it resides, the cathedral was an inspiration to me when I needed some last year, when I started shooting it. Not initially intended to be a long-term photographic project, it evolved organically as I continued going back time after time to make images of it, and in it.
“From Above” – Saint Paul, MN
“Directed” – Saint Paul, MN
“Holy Cards” – Saint Paul, MN
To see the full set of images I selected, go here.
And so, the annual review is done. I recapped some of the best, and some of my favorite, images of the year. They didn’t all make the cut, since I decided to organize this not strictly along the basis of single interesting images, but rather thematically.
“Self-Portrait” – Anna Maria Island, FL
After re-reading much of this post it appears rambling, and without direction; it is being pulled in many different directions, going many places (both physically and artistically), and unsure of its purpose at times. Perhaps that sums up the year more than anything I could say. This was very much a year in flux for me, unsettled and in transition. It was also rich and rewarding, stimulating and invigorating.
To follow that theme, here are a few of my favorite other images that I didn’t group thematically for one reason or another.
“Window Light” – Lisbon, Portugal
“The Eye” – Saint Paul, MN
“Lake” – Grand Marais, MN
So that’s it. My grand review of the year 2012.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Questions, comments, and critiques are always welcome around here, so take the time to place one in the comment field below.
BATHROOM TREVOR, International Edition – Sintra, Portugal
I realize that end-of-year reviews are all the rage this time of year, and many are quite lame. An excuse to write without actually creating anything new–a godsend to those paid by the entry. However, I figured it was a good thing for me to do in an attempt to really think about my work for the year. Where has it taken me? What have I learned? I have been going through all of my photos over the past few days in preparation for submission to some international contests, and I have realized that this year has been especially productive for me. Photographically, this may have been the best year so far of my relatively short artistic career.
*Since this turned into a relatively long post, I decided to split it into two separate posts. The first half of the year (roughly) will be covered in this post, with the second half of the year to be covered in another post to come.*
I figured I’d recap the year with some highlights of 2012. It was a big year for me photographically, having finished two longer-term projects I was working on, as well as a rash of new equipment; I also had the chance to travel a bit. In complete dissociation with the recent direction of this blog, this two-part review is–perhaps out of necessity–very heavily geared toward imagery. I will accompany the images with words, but it is the images that mark the journey of this year most emphatically.
I started the year in England. More specifically, I rang in the new year in Norwich, as part of my annual trip to the UK with my father. Here is a set of images from that trip, which included London, Norwich, and Wigan. This trip is, to a large degree, where I trace the start of my reinvigoration with photography.
“Harvey” – London, England
“Waiting” – London, England
I had drifted away in 2010 and 2011…unsure of what I was doing, lacking clear direction or focus in my work, I started to lose my way. This trip helped fix that, along with a new piece of equipment: the Fuji X100. I found the fun in photography again, and realized that the process is as important (and even more so in some cases) than the final image. Photography actually isn’t all about the image sometimes.
But I noticed that with a small, quiet, and discrete camera, I was able to shoot in a way I never had before. In fact, the strengths and limitations of the X100 pushed me into a new direction; coincidentally, it was the direction in which my interests had already been luring me. It might be a bit hyperbolic to say it was a match made in heaven–but I think it was.
“What You Fancy” – Wigan, England
“This Modern Love” – Manchester, England
As I said above, the images I returned home from England with in January of 2012 were quite good. A new direction had grabbed hold of me and I was happy that it was so. Looking back through the images again now, it was clear what that direction was, and although it was a bit hit and miss–isn’t all photography?–the hits convinced me that it was a thread worth chasing, and down the rabbit hole we went, in more ways than one.
An exciting year lay ahead.
I spent the first half of the year living in Fargo, North Dakota, and it was that post that started gaining this blog some exposure when it was featured as “Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress.com homepage in January. Barely a month old, my blog exploded with visitors and comments and followers, which has continued ever since. I began carrying my camera with me every day again, which is something I had gotten away from the previous year or two. Photography began to be a daily event again for me, and I noticed tremendous growth in my work throughout the year.
“Prairie Sky” – Fargo, ND
“Abandoned” – Fargo, ND
People had become my primary interest, photographically. Problematically for me, I find approaching–nay, not even approaching, but simply photographing–strangers difficult. That is my personality, and one reason I find I am well suited to the side of the lens I generally find myself on. When I’m shooting in the United States, I find this is the case more than abroad. Space is a very different beast over here, and the virtually limitless space is one of the fundamental principles of the American experience; in photographic terms, this means that it is more difficult to make photographs in public without being noticed. I’m sure that in large, busy cities like New York it may be different, but in the Midwest if you come too close to someone you are instantly on their radar, and it is virtually impossible to make an image without attracting attention. This doesn’t help what I’m trying to do with my images.
In the vast expanses of North Dakota, this rule was taken to extremes. New, creative ways of making photographs in the street were forced out of me.
“The Space Between” – Fargo, ND
“Zebra” – Fargo, ND
Although some of my images from North Dakota work, many of them do not. Of course, many folks can make fine images there; one just needs to adapt one’s approach and vision to suit what there is to make images of in the space provided. But at this time in my image-making, it was something else I was after.
North Dakota was also the beginning of a new pursuit for me, as I began to get back into film. In 2008-09, I photographed almost exclusively with film, but had gotten away from it thereafter as my artistic vision became hazy, and the convenience of digital won me over. The almighty DSLR was my chief image-capturer (some might even call it a camera, though it feels more like a computer than a camera; it’s more laptop than Leica, I’ve said before) and I all but abandoned film. However, I picked up a used film rangefinder on Craigslist on a whim, and the madness started.
I know I mentioned the rabbit-hole earlier, and the analogy with Carrol’s world is appropriate, since I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was not prepared for the gear-binge I was about to embark on.
I will cover that after I cover the other major trip of the year: Portugal.
Next up was a vacation with my wonderful wife in Portugal. For two weeks we discovered a country which entranced us both–and we can’t wait to return–from Porto to Lisbon, with Sintra in between. We already planning our return at some point in 2013. There are many highlights. Using a mixture of film and digital photography, I took a great many images while in Portugal, and made a book of a selection of black and white images.
“Momentary Light” – Porto, Portugal
First, a new awareness of light is something I can see about those images now. I think all of these pieces can be traced to using slower cameras: both film rangefinders and the Fuji X100 can be slow in operation–at least, more so than the digital whiz-bang gizmos masquerading as cameras just about everywhere–and forced me to do more work before releasing the shutter than I had previously been forced to do. I have always been what I’d call a reactive photographer; I can struggle at times to create a scene, which is why I often have difficulty posing people for photographs. I don’t envision a scene well, but I give myself credit for seeing a scene. Frequently, I raise the camera to my eye and make an image and I don’t always know why–something compels me to do so. In that sense, I’m less a cerebral photographer and rely more on feeling.
“Into Darkness” – Lisbon, Portugal
“Peep Show” – Lisbon, Portugal
“Lines” – Porto, Portugal
Visually, I found Portugal very interesting. More than that, a personal style began to emerge, totally unforced. When I returned home and went through the images I made I found that many of the images dealt with loneliness and isolation; often solitary figures in the heart of urban centers did not represent the whole of my experience in Portugal, but it’s what my lens was drawn to. A more comprehensive approach to constructing and composing my images took shape as well, as the final shot above (in particular) attests.
Back to The Future: Film Revisited
As I mentioned above, 2012 saw me revisit analog photography. Shooting with film was something I did in 2008 and 2009 in particular, after taking a film photography course as my final undergraduate course. But the convenience of digital won me over, and film slowly ebbed away until I was shooting all digital: 2012 saw that change.
“Wonder” – Saint Paul, MN
“Size” – Fargo, ND
Reinvigorated by film, I began to try more film cameras. The Fuji X100 steered me in the direction of rangefinder cameras, as I found that style of shooting came naturally. I also found it more enjoyable. From the Minolta CL I moved to the Leica M3; to the M3 I added an M6, then sold the M3 and purchased a Zeiss Ikon; that Ikon outlived my M6 and was soon joined by an MP, which then was my only rangefinder until I added an M6TTL, and sold the MP because I found the viewfinder wasn’t the right one for me. In concert with this madness came a fair number of lenses I also tried.
The other new (to me) piece of equipment I added was a Hasselblad 501CM. Medium format photography is a joy and I had gotten away from it lately. I’m glad I rediscovered the 6×6 negative.
“White” – Minneapolis, MN
“Angles” – Minneapolis, MN
Thanks for reading, and viewing, the first part of the 2012 review. I will be rounding out the year’s events and images in the second half of this post to come in the next few days.
I have uploaded some shots previously about my travels to Anna Maria Island in other posts. Going through my archives again, I have begun to create a longer-term set of images that I am slowly beginning to visualize as a project that is nowhere near complete but could take many more trips to fully finish. Thankfully, I’m sure I’ll have a lot more trips to do so. This has led me to think about long-term photographic projects, which forms the basis of this post. The images in this post are ones that I have not previously shown, but are the beginnings of a project that I am cautiously calling Floridians for now. Both the title and the images contained in this project are subject to change, but I figured I should add some shots to the post. If you have comments on them or my musings within this post, please do let me know.
I think a discussion about the nature of projects and how they start, evolve, and come into being might be helpful. All I can do is share how I go about it, and there are certainly others who are far more experienced than I at this, but I reached a stage in my photography a few years ago where I wanted to stop just taking and uploading shots for the sake of it and begin focusing on coherent, complete bodies of work centered around a theme or idea. If you’re getting to the same point, this may be helpful; if you’re long past that point and have some ideas of your own to add, please do so.
I’ll cover how to start a project, choose appropriate equipment, and editing your work in this post. In a later post, I’ll cover other considerations for the later stages of your workflow if there is an interest.
When starting a photographic project, there seem to be two generally-accepted ways of going about doing gathering material.
First, one has an idea and goes out in search of this idea. This involves going out intentionally searching for things about this idea, and shooting anything that might fit. The good thing about this way of doing things is that it focuses one’s attention and output around this single theme; the bad thing is that often one can overlook other photographs since they don’t fit the conceptual thread one is presently engaged in. Additionally, I find that one’s preconceptions can get in the way in this form of working. For example, if one sets out to shoot the plight of the homeless (which is far too cliched, and please do not shoot this), one might miss things that don’t fit exactly into that, or worse, one approaches the idea with one’s mind already made up about the subject. By studying the plight of the homeless, one has already narrowed the theme to be one that is negative in tone; by simply shooting with an open mind, other possibilities might open up and take the project in different directions that initially intended.
The other way many photographers begin a project is by shooting naturally what they are interested in, and then by later going through one’s work to identify themes and visual threads that fit together into a single, coherent project. The good thing about this way of working is that it allows the photographer to keep an open mind and follow what comes naturally to them; the bad thing is that it can mean a far less focused approach, necessitating a lot more shots to be taken, more time to be invested, and sometimes shoe-horning photos that don’t fit exactly into the theme of the project. Much tighter editing is often necessary to avoid extraneous or redundant images (but editing is necessary regardless of the approach taken to the project).
I find that I use a hybrid approach. I generally let things start naturally, but once I’ve identified a theme in my work I keep it in the back of my mind so that at any given time I might have multiple projects that are in various stages of realization or completion to keep me motivated an semi-focused. For example, my recent Summer Job project was one that I thought up before I began, but all I really went into it with was a general idea and left the final determination for the editing stage. It had a hard start and end date as well–which is important to keep in mind. I had 100 days with a clear start and finish, meaning that at a certain point it was over, regardless of what I had. While this may sound challenging, it’s actually incredibly liberating.
An important thing to consider is how to start and finish a project. Often starting it isn’t the issue so much as ending it is. I find that projects that don’t have a hard timetable are the ones that are inevitable never-ending. For example, I can use my recent Saint Paul Cathedralproject as a project that had neither start nor end date determined for me; it started when I began and ended when I decided it was enough. Of course, it’s never really enough, and therein lies the trick. I am sure I could go back now and make images that I’d find are better than one I included–and this kind of second-guessing can mean projects that are started and never wind up getting done. If your project has no set end-date, make sure you have a way to end it.
You will also need to think about equipment. What equipment will best suit this project? Some photographers only use one type of camera, one they feel comfortable with or the only one they own, for example. Others vary their equipment based on the project’s specifications. Will you be traveling for this project? Then perhaps something light is needed. Will you be printing large photographs? Then perhaps a medium- or large-format camera is needed. Digital or film; large or small; light or heavy; image quality vs. portability; these are all things to consider when choosing your equipment.
Generally, it is a good idea to keep a consistent format and visual aesthetic for a project. Changing too much can disorient the viewer and detract from the theme or idea you are trying to present to your audience. This isn’t an iron-clad rule, but it is important to think about when choosing equipment.
Additionally, consider how the medium you do choose will help you to express your ideas. From a technical standpoint, this might mean a faster film or tripod if you’re doing night-time photography, or an external light meter if shooting in difficult lighting conditions; thematically, you might want a smaller/larger grain in images, or choosing color vs. black and white is another consideration. Finally, choosing a focal length can be important in expressing a feeling to the viewer: longer focal lengths are great for portraits, while wider focal lengths are nice to get close and give the viewer a visceral, right-there-with-you feeling.
Editing Your Work
Yes, you will need to edit, and this does not mean Photoshop. Editing for a project does not mean editing the images themselves; I assume that by the time you are itching to create groups of images around themes and ideas, I should hope you are confident in your ability to create images that are technically proficient enough to stand on their own merit. Editing for a project means being ruthless and culling your images down to the smallest number possible to have a worthwhile project–or said in another way, how can you tell this particular story/idea/theme in the fewest number of images possible? Often, photographers choose an arbitrary number–say, 10 or 20–that they limit themselves to. Why? They are round numbers, but the number could be anything, depending on how you envision your project’s presentation. Do you plan to see this project in a gallery? Then the gallery that agrees to show your work will dictate how many images you can have, based on space restrictions often, but also other variables. They might only have space to hang 8 images, or this might also depend on how large your prints are. 8×10? 16×20? Larger than that? This goes back to choosing equipment.
I have found in my own work as well as in speaking with others that printing photographs is incredibly important in creating a project. Whether you shoot digital or film, print your images when it is time to choose the final selections. There is something much different in seeing images in print and moving them around physically when thinking of arrangement or display size than seeing them on a screen. Working on a computer or tablet is incredibly convenient, but unless your audience will be viewing them that way, I suggest printing photographs. You don’t have to print them all large, even simple 5×7 prints could be enough often, but having them in front of you physically is helpful.
Avoid falling in love with certain shots. Often this can be a pitfall of projects. You have a set of images you like, and you are near the end of your realization of this particular project but there is one shot you’re in love with. It’s a great image, even–but it doesn’t fit in with the visual, stylistic, or thematic thread you’ve established with the other shots. Don’t be afraid to let go of shots and detach yourself emotionally from a certain image if need be. It can be a delicate balance: you have to stay emotionally connected to the project to create a strong project that resonates with your audience, while at the same time allowing yourself to be disconnected enough to sacrifice certain shots you’re in love with. In my experience, allowing your work to sit for a while before looking at it can help with this; allowing it to sit without looking at it even after you have looked at it can help you examine it more critically and objectively as well.
Of course, one of the most important parts of creating images, and a photographic project, is critique. You need to show your work to others whose opinion you trust and respect. Unless your mother knows a lot about photography or art, she may not be the best person to show your work to (sorry, mom!) since she loves you, and, by extension, your work. Asking others, who are familiar with your work, or whose work you respect, to critically examine your work will help you figure out where the project is going. I would recommend doing so along the way, not just at the end. Getting pointers along the way of where to take the idea or things to incorporate can be invaluable.
I hope that this was helpful for you all. If it was, please let me know by leaving a comment below. If you anything else to add, please do so–I am by no means the final authority on this, but I figured I’d share what I do know with others.
The project contained in this post–as I mentioned, it is called Floridians for the time being–is not fully formed and has a long way to go. I’ve given the images preliminary titles but that could change as well; in fact, I often find that titling an image is one of the hardest parts for me. Too cute, and it’s cliched; too clever and it can be trite; too dull and it can detract from the image. Finding a balance, and conveying the concept and idea of the image along with a descriptive, short name is not as easy as it might seem. Anyone have a way to help with that?
Here is a set of Max’s Florida adventure in 2008. As I have mentioned previously, my extended family generally meets on Anna Maria Island, Florida, for a week of vacation in July each year. I have posted my own shots from these trips in other posts, but going through my archives recently, I found some rolls of Max’s that I scanned from 2008. Here they are.
Little did I know that my son is quite the street photographer! He is definitely developing his own visual style, although things have changed since he took these over 4 years ago now.
I really love the grainy look that a lot of these have, coupled with the flash. It has a certain Martin Parr quality to it, like something out of his supermarket series maybe.
These were all taken with a small disposable film camera, on his own, at the age of 3.
Here’s to unbridled and uncorrupted creativity!
And here he is shooting the shooter. Gotta love it!
Honestly, I think that if I hadn’t told you these were taken by my son, you might not have known. They stand together as a set well, don’t they?
Honestly, after reviewing these two rolls taken that summer, and then a few other rolls that he has taken over the years, I really think I need to get him taking more photographs. I love these shots.
He has been shooting more of his little Fuji Instax Mini lately, which he really enjoys. Since I got mine out, he did the same; he really likes getting the shots back immediately, and at his age and experience level it is nice to get prompt feedback on what is and isn’t working.
He spent the day at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving sneaking around and trying to catch candid shots of everyone doing their thing…I think we may have a miniature Bruce Gilden on our hands.
Perhaps a future in street photography for my boy?
I hope you like today’s images, which are much more fun and carefree than the blog has been lately.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here is another reason to shoot film: it’s cheap. Get your kid some disposable cameras and let them go at it. They won’t break them or lose them, and if they do, you’re not out much money. Secondly, not getting instant feedback meant that for this group of images, the imperfections stayed around; had they been taken on digital he might have attempted to delete some and correct some of the shots.
I’d love to hear what you all think down below in the comments!
I wanted to take the time today to wish a happy anniversary to my lovely wife, Megan. Two years ago we were married in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in a small ceremony. Honestly, I don’t think I could have made a better decision.
Thanks for making me the happiest guy around 🙂
“FC Porto” – Portugal, 2012
She has been there with me as we moved to three different states, and have traveled from Duluth to Lisbon. There is no better travel companion.
You and I have been through a lot in the 6 years we have been together now, and married for the last two…
“Injury” – Michigan, 2010
No matter what, you’ve always been there for me, and Max too. We appreciate everything you do for us!
As is usually the case, I’m better at expressing things with photographs than with words…
“Underwater” – Florida, 2009
I look forward to the next years together. Thanks for being my wife and supporting me through everything. Thanks for taking care of me and being there when no one else is. Thanks for loving me unconditionally. Thanks for putting up with my incessant picture-taking, too 🙂
I can’t wait to see what the future brings!
“Mirror” – Minnesota, 2011
There is no better muse for me. Thanks for posing for me for the last 6 years, and I hope you’ll continue to be such an awesome model.
There is no prettier model for my lens.
“Flight” – Paris, 2012
As always, I hope you all like what you see here, and thank you for continuing to return, post after post, to read what I have to say and see the photographs that I post here. It means a lot to have some many folks reading, and it’s awesome to read comments from those of you that take the time to do so. I know that it takes a few extra minutes to log in and comment, but it does go a long way on my end to get the support from the readers everyday.
Thanks to everyone. If you like my work, check out my website, too!
As loyal readers know, I took my Hasselblad 501CM with me on my annual trip to Anna Maria Island, Florida in July of this year. I had recently had my appendix out, and as a result I was unable to swim, giving me lots of time to make photographs. I decided that I wanted a challenge and brought along the ‘Blad in order to make some different kinds of shots for the book that I planned to make (you can see it here) once I returned home.
Over the past year, I have become mostly interested in what is generally known as “street photography”, or “documentary photography”. This mostly involves approaching a scene and photographing it as it unfolds organically–not altering the scene at all. It is candid, unposed, and can yield great results, if done well. It’s also not easy. As the style has become more popular, the genre has been watered down with a lot of silly snapshots that have very little, if anything, to offer artistically. “Photography is nothing,” a founding father of both street photography and photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson, once said, “it is life that interests me.”
“Kelsey & Kristin” – Anna Maria Island, FL
The Hasselblad is not really known for excelling in this type of photography, but is renowned as an excellent system for portraits and landscapes. Landscapes are particularly strange to me, and the results that I got while in Florida proved as much; portraits were a different story. Having shot some portraits in the past with my SLRs, I have a bit of experience with the medium, but I would not really classify myself as a portrait photographer. Armed with 50/4, 80/2.8, and 150/4 lenses (medium format focal lengths are not equal to those of the more widely-known 35mm format; as a rough rule, if you divide the medium format focal length in half, you get an approximate 35mm focal length value) I set off to make some portraits.
I did not venture into making portraits of strangers, or what are known as “street portraits”. Striking up conversations with strangers is really not a great strength of mine–which is one reason I think photography, and street photography in particular–appeals to me. Be that as it may, the Hasselblad was not the only camera system I brought along (since I had so much time to shoot this year), and I enjoyed exploring a new type of photography, and getting more familiar with the Hasselblad 501CM. It is still relatively new to me, and its intricacies still amaze me. So does the output.
“Mom” – Anna Maria Island, FL
The camera is relatively large and bulky, although not incredibly heavy. My Nikon D700, as measure of comparison, is heavier, and about as bulky. The newer lenses for the Hasselblad V-system, like my 80mm f/2.8 CFE T*, are more plastic and far lighter than the older CT* lenses like the 50mm f/4 and 150mm f/4 I also brought along (borrowed from my father). The 501CM is solidly-built and robust; when using it I do not feel as if I need to baby the camera (but then I remember what it cost, and I do baby it a little). My 501CM was made in 2001, my father’s was made in 1998; the 500CM has been made for decades, and is essentially the same camera; the 501CM introduces a few minor changes that you likely wouldn’t miss unless you were a hard-core Hasselblad shooter.
Holding the camera at such an angle where you look down into it, as opposed to the more traditional in front of your face, when you make a photograph of someone is strange at first. Actually, I’m still not really used to it. By looking down at the mirror through the focusing screen, you also learn that the image is reversed, which can take some time to get used to. Due to the position that you have to hold the camera at, and its size and weight, a tripod is highly recommended. I haven’t gotten one yet, and there are some times I wish I had one. Then again, lugging around a tripod makes the whole rig even bulkier and heavier, so there is a balance to strike. The slow focusing, film advance, and general operation also ensure that each photograph is carefully selected before the frame is exposed. As someone I’m quite fond of would say, it’s a very “deliberate” pace.
The larger negative of medium format film can yield detail that a 35mm negative would not show you. The resolving power and sharpness of the Zeiss lenses for the Hasselblad V-system have a reputation that precedes them, and for good reason. They are truly excellent from shots I have seen, both of my own and from others.
“Kids” – Anna Maria Island, FL
For anyone looking at the Hasselblad system, would I recommend it? Well, that’s a tough call. This is only the second medium format camera that I have used (not counting the cheap, increasingly hipster-ish Holga). My first was the Mamiya C220 TLR, which is a twin lens reflex (TLR). A twin lens reflex camera is similar, yet different, in operation from the Hasselblad SLR (single lens reflex) camera. One key difference is that the TLR has two lenses, which allows the photographer to see through the lens even after the exposure and before the shutter is re-cocked. This is not the case with the Hasselblad, where the viewfinder goes black until the film is advanced and the mirror has been flipped back down. This may not be a big deal to some, but it can be to others.
Back to the question I just posed. So you know your way around a camera, and are interested in a medium format film camera? Perhaps you’ve shot film before, or even a different medium format-system, like the Mamiya TLR line, the Mamiya rangefinder system, or others. Perhaps this is your first inroad into the medium. Well, the Hasselblad does come with a few drawbacks. First, it does not have a meter built-in; you’ll have to bring your own external meter to this party. If you don’t know what a meter is, or what that matters, please stop reading now, head to your nearest Best Buy, and ask the salesperson to recommend a good camera for taking pictures of your dogs.
Still reading? Great, then let’s continue…
“Papa” – Anna Maria Island, FL
The Hasselblad also has other cons beside the lack of a built-in meter (which isn’t that big of a deal, since you can get a free light meter app for your smartphone which will do the job). There is no autofocus. The lack of AF may get some, but chances are if you’re willing to go without a meter in your camera and are already thinking of the Hasselblad, then you’re probably focusing a camera on your own without the assistance of a computer. The manual focus isn’t particularly fast on this line of cameras–unlike, say, my trusty Leica M rangefinder. Rangefinder focusing is really apples-and-oranges, however. I’m just using that as a way to compare.
So, we have a list of pros and cons. Let’s refresh our memories:
Image quality is stunning!
System is well-developed, meaning there are lots of accessories, lenses, etc readily available
Excellent for the portrait and landscape photographers out there
Shoots film–and the larger negatives are great for prints (but digital backs are available)
Body and lenses are comparatively large and bulky, and can be heavy
Lack of built-in meter, autofocus, flash
Slow to operate
Shooting at slower speeds necessitates a tripod; actually, a tripod is probably a good idea most of the time
Maximum shutter speed of 1/500 can be limiting (and may necessitate the use of ND filters)
Bodies, lenses, and accessories cost a premium
Qualified repair-people can be hard to come by, and are expensive when you do
“Salute” – Anna Maria Island, FL
You’ll notice that I listed the fact that it shoots film as both a positive and a negative. That’s because it is…sort of. I happen to love film, and the look it gives. I also love shooting with film cameras more that I do with digital cameras (if you have to ask, I can’t explain it). But film is getting expensive, and with medium format you only get 12 frames per roll, as opposed to the more traditional 24 or 26 exposures that you get with 35mm film. Additionally, processing and scanning add to the time–and cost–of shooting film. With a roll of medium format film costing around $5 these days, and processing anywhere from $5-12 per roll (depending on the vendor used and if you get your negatives scanned, to say nothing of prints), there can be a considerable cost involved. And that is after you already shelled out your hard-earned money for the equipment.
So…that is quite a list, with arguments for and against. The biggest barrier you’ll probably find is the cost of getting into such a system. There are no two ways around it: Hasselblad is expensive. Is it worth it to you? I can’t make that call. All I know is that I love mine, even though it is a bit of a “specialty” camera for me. I don’t take it everywhere with me, and it isn’t an all-purpose camera by any means. If you are looking for one camera, look elsewhere. If you want a camera for really anything but portraiture or landscapes, you should also look elsewhere, as the Hasselblad system isn’t suited to much else. But that isn’t to say that you can’t use it for anything else, just that there are better options for you.
“Elliot” – Anna Maria Island, FL
I have illustrated this post with portraits, but I have done other things with it as well. I used my old Mamiya TLR for years before finally investing in my Hasselblad 501CM when I stumbled on a great deal earlier this year. For me, the Hasselblad is a camera that I use for certain things. I love the results I get from the camera, but for most things it’s too large to carry around with me. When I am traveling light, or even just heading out for a day with my family, I much prefer the size and weight of my Leica MP and a lens or two.
All in all, I’m quite happy with the Haasselblad 501CM. I look forward to years of shooting with it, and I am already planning a vacation with it in the near future so that I can work on my landscape photography 🙂
“Self-Portrait” – Anna Maria Island, FL
If this review was helpful to you, leave a comment and let me know. It’s not scientific by any means, but it’s as thorough as I can likely be. I’m not a qualified camera-reviewer, just a guy who actually uses the equipment and enjoys it, and figured some others might benefit from some thoughts I had on it.
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Yesterday’s post on Anna Maria Island, Florida was all about Fuji Acros 100, which is a black-and-white negative film. Today’s shots are all using Fuji’s Provia 100F, a medium format slide film which I really love. In addition to the Fuji Provia, all of the shots in today’s post were done using my Hasselblad 501CM. I touched on the strengths and weaknesses of the Hasselblad somewhat yesterday, and won’t do so again. Instead, I’d like to let the images to the talking today!
Anna Maria Island, Florida, is about an hour’s drive south of Tampa, on the Gulf coast of Florida. I have only ever been there during the summer; perhaps the winter months would yield much different results, from a photographic perspective. The light is incredibly bright during the day, but the evenings and mornings can give great results, as the light softens up and generally gives a great, golden glow that is harder to get up north. While it is possible, there is a much smaller window for getting such wonderful light.
“Flag” – Anna Maria Island, FL
I wish I had been able to get around more while I was on the island. Due to my recovery from my appendectomy, I was forced to rest more than I had wanted to. Still, I did have some opportunities to get out and shoot around the island–mostly in the places we usually go to when on vacation there. We stay around the north end of the island. The south side of the island is where the town of Anna Maria is, but I can’t say I have ever gotten down there to see it.
“Beach” – Anna Maria Island, FL
Ever since I started shooting film, I have enjoyed using slide film. When shooting on medium format, this is even more the case. Looking at the huge, square negatives of medium format slides are truly incredible. Even in that smaller size, the level of detail is evident. The colors are rich and vibrant, and without a loupe and simply holding it up to the light you can get a great experience!
I tend to favor the Provia over Fuji’s Velvia line of reversal film. I find the saturation too high, personally, on the Velvia. The colors are too bright, and too saturated, for me. Provia hits the spot for me with a range of colors, and skin tones. Though I haven’t ever tried Fuji’s Astia, I have heard rave reviews from others who have used it, particularly in portraiture.
“Florida Flora” – Anna Maria Island, FL
I am still getting used to shooting with the Hasselblad. I find that I often don’t take it with me since it is rather large and bulky (compared to my smaller rangefinders and the like), and so taking it out means that I have to be focused on it. I also carried a second lens for it–the 50mm f/4–and that is incredibly heavy and large, meaning that the whole kit needs a dedicated space. It’s not something you can just squeeze into a corner of your carry-on, as I can with my Leica rangefinders.
For anyone considering the Hasselblad system, the slow operation, and limiting maximum shutter speed of 1/500 are also an issue to keep in mind. In fact, using a tripod is almost a must when using it in anything other than bright light as well; you can lock up the mirror to reduce camera shake with each exposure, but that means that the focusing screen is useless, since with the mirror locked up you can’t see (it is an SLR after all–this is less of an issue with TLRs like my old Mamiya C220).
“Exploration” – Anna Maria Island, FL
On the whole, I am glad that I took it to Florida. I got images that are different from what I can get with my Nikon DSLR. I enjoy using the Hasselblad, and I am glad that I have it for those times that I want to shoot medium format–the results you can get with this system are truly spectacular, if you keep in mind its shortcomings/weaknesses. My Nikon D700, in contrast, is incredibly versatile and can perform in a variety of settings, light conditions, weather conditions, and always gives good results. In fact, you can shoot that thing in near darkness and you’ll usually get usable results. It really is nothing short of a technical marvel.
Then again, it doesn’t always have that bit of magic that you can get with medium format. Call me romantic, but I really think there is a certain je ne sai quoi with the Hasselbald, and film more generally.
“Mother” – Anna Maria Island, FL
I’d love to hear your thoughts on your experiences with the Hasselblad system. Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Put them in the comments below!
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