Thursday, January 24, 2013


A month and a half ago (give or take), thanks to my friend Laurence, I 'found' these two relics in the prairies to the north east of Calgary. She had stumbled onto this scene a fews days before and I asked her if she would be able to disclose the location. I was happy that she agreed to do so. 

When I came to the scene, I knew it was going to be a tough scene to photograph. There where a lot of long grasses spread out everywhere and I somehow hoped, I could work around them.

Like I said in my previous post, film photography can be a very hard teacher. And that's either a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends on how you look at it. The majority of photographers would be so disappointed after a while that they would contemplate giving up photography all together. In my opinion, photography is not about stringing together winning image after winning image. It's about personal satisfaction.

Sometimes the outside world thinks that we – photographers – create winning piece after winning piece. Or the photographers that we follow – through our various feeds (like Twitter, Flickr, Google+) seem to do so by posting winner after winner.

How do they do that? How do they keep themselves inspired 100% of the time?!

They don't.
It's just humanly not possible.
It is just clever marketing.
Remember that!

But back to the post I was trying to write.

Here are the two negatives I was talking about. These are straight scans. No alterations to the negatives have been made (I didn't even clone out the dust). Technically, nothing is wrong with these negatives. They are sharp, the metering was fairly good, highlights on the snow are white, ample shadow detail.

I could have underexposed this by about a stop or so to give the cars a bit more density, and developed it N+1 (maybe even N+2) for more contrast. I was afraid I would loose to much detail in the cars by doing so. Now I know I can.
Although, the scene looked OK on the ground glass, I was wrong. Seeing the 2 negatives I made was a big disappointment.

And why is that?

Sally Mann said it the best in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannShe said: "There's always a time in any series of work where you get to a certain point and your work is going steadily and each picture is better than the next, and then you sort of level off and that's when you realize that it's not that each picture is better then the next, it's that each picture ups the ante. And that every time you take one good picture, the next one has got to be better".

I couldn't agree more.

Before I had even set up the camera, I had walked around these relics and I had a very good idea this was going to be a bust. When I was photographing in digital I would have snapped away while walking around, looking at the LCD and THEN realizing that it was going to be a bust.

At least it was a bust for the minimalist in me and for what I had in mind with this scene. But nevertheless, I went ahead and exposed a couple of frames. I essentially took these exposures as a light metering exercise and to be able to study the scene a bit further afterwards.

So when I
do go back in the future, I have a better idea what to expect and what to look for. 

Just for fun, lets dissect the two negatives.

Photograph no 1

This is the view looking North East, standing from the range road. I kinda like the overall, diagonal composition but in the end it is a boring photograph waiting to happen. The light just isn't there and the sky is very bland. Remember kids, in photography, light is the most important ingredient! The scene is also full of annoying clutter. And I can't help it but question what this scene is about? The cars in the foreground or the house and the trees in the background. There are too many elements in this scene to make a compelling photograph don't you think? 

Photograph no 2

This is the view looking South West. Placing the subject in the middle is definitely NOT the way to go for this scene. Although I used a bubble level, I can't help it but feel like this negative is crooked (actually both feel crooked). And what is that grass doing on the bottom of the frame? That is definitely something I didn't see. Again a very boring flat sky. That range road in the background is not very flattering nor is that fence. Maybe a potential square in this view?
So how would me be able to make this better? 
Well I think you will agree with me that we need to simplify this scene. There are so many elements in both these negatives that are making this scene look very cluttered, that we either need to eliminate some (by taking our weed whacker to the grass) or by using a technique that will simplify the scene for us.

Two things I am thinking about doing are: photographing this scene during very foggy conditions. That way I will be able to simplify by eliminating background elements. Or photographing this with a long exposure on a stormy spring/summer day. That way we can get that dramatic sky I think this scene deserves, and all the grass will be blurred making the static elements stand out more.

There you have it. That's my confession. Most of the times I suck. Just like every other photographer out there. My initial meeting with these relics was not something that produced the results I was hoping for. But it has become the starting point of a thinking process.

A process that I know I will enjoy.

To be continued...


  1. One idea that I do is take a little digital camera me, right now its my iPod and if I see a scene that has potential but not quite "right" to haul out the big cam I shoot a few pics with the mini digital to remind me later that a particular scene is worth going back to.

    1. I do 'save' most locations in a gps device and load those into Google Earth once I am home. I do add notes too... And once in a while, I go over these images and see if conditions seem favourable. I think every photographer should have some sort of database on their own. I think it's very useful.

  2. Great post Olivier. The approach you have to photography is what allows you to create the great work you do. Photography, like life in general, isn't about always getting what you want. It's about working with and appreciating what you've got and learning how best to maximize that through experience. When you are open to that philosophy great work can be created.

    1. I fully agree with that thought Peter! Thank you for reading my post. Appreciate that. See you on the 21st!

  3. Kudos for a very humble post Olivier. Not all pro-photographer accept that, at time they too go wrong. And very few of them would actually go ahead and show their not-so-great pictures.
    Thanks for posting. You are an inspiration to amateurs.

    1. You've said a very big keyword. HUMBLE.
      That's exactly who I try to be. A humble and approachable photographer. Not somebody that screams 'look at how good I am'. F*** those guys. ;)

      Always be thankful for people looking at your work. Always.

  4. Actually I think neg 1 could be just fine if you got a smidgen closer and upped the contrast/clarity.

    1. Meh.... too cluttered. :)

      Thanks for the opinion though.

  5. That took guys, my fried. I just delete the uggos and pretend it never happened. Denial is a huge part of my workflow.

    1. Hey Chuck.... looking forward to meet you soon. Hope our 'date' is still a go.

  6. Good lawd my spelling is bad. That should be "guts" and "friend"....

  7. My apologies for my previous post.....I encourage you to keep working at it, from what I have seen you are a talented photographer with a good eye.... very good post, open and honest, as Chuck said, most ( including myself ) would rather throw out the ugly images and pretend that they never happened. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Gary. No apologies necessary because you brought up a great tip. And if that works for you all the better right?

      For me personally, I feel like I can't be distracted to much anymore by digital. I am putting all my efforts into film these days (which sounds so haughty but I don't mean it that way). I believe in doing one thing and doing it well. If I want to get better at film photography, I should use it every day. It will train my eye, it will train my technique too.

      Thanks for the dialogue. It means a lot.

    2. That sounds like a good plan......any info that I can help you with, please don't hesitate to ask, just send me a message....I have been travelling the film road for many years :)

  8. A very honest dissection Olivier, I agree with you. It's super hard to up your images some times, and it's when we get out of that slump that our images speak for themselves!

    1. Thank you. It from times like these that you and me learn and pick up on things. Right? I just wished more people did it. It's an awesome exercise.

  9. Oli,
    Definitely looked like a tough scene. Grass, I know! What about getting down low and making the two cars the focal point of the composition. It's OK to get down on your knees every now and then. Think of all the energy you will be saving by not lifting the RB up to eye level. ;)

    1. Yes definitely something I should play with more. Dn't know why I didn't try it. I guess I thought I was going to ruin the snow with footprints, but then again, the snow was already trampled....

      And Zoltan, you know that I don't shoot my brick handheld. But maybe if I did some more bicep curls with the RB ... I could... maybe... one day...

  10. I know "the brick" is tripod mounted. You would still be on your knees or belly looking through the viewfinder with splayed legs, on the tripod that is. Been there... well not with a "brick", but dealing with a viewfinder in that situation. You should start doing some more bicep curls anyways, they are good for you!

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