Nothing on my mind, 22 May 2009


Today, it is an accurate description…there really isn’t much on my mind today. Honestly, I would really rather be taking a nap…or just not having woken up this morning. Despite the fact that I have very little to do, I don’t sleep in nearly as much as I thought I would (of course, the fact that I still set my alarm for the morning may have something to do with that). Alas. Well, I suppose there are worse things in life. Regardless, here is another photo for your viewing pleasure (or discomfort, depending on how much y’all actually appreciate my work!)


I shot this photo on 21st Street in Norfolk, VA, obviously at night. In contrast to most of the blocks along the street, the building on this block clearly has a rounded corner to it (nice curvy shape, ain’t it?); it also helps that the restaurant that occupies that corner (The Boot, in case you can’t read…) is pretty good, too, though I have not patronized it nearly as much as that assessment may indicate. What can I say? I like McDonald’s…but that’s another issue entirely. As for the photo itself, I like the confluence of elements here, from the directionality of the street, to the form of the building, to the high-contrast lighting from the adjacent streetlamp.

Photo Information:

Camera: Nikon N80 SLR (F80 for the rest of the world)
Lens: Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
Film: Fuji Neopan ISO 1600
Exposure: Minolta Spotmeter F

A few technical notes about the photo. The film I used, Fuji’s excellent Neopan ISO 1600, is a high-speed black and white film, [1][2] which I selected for two reasons. First, high speed film can be used in low light conditions without the need for a tripod, which has obvious implications regarding the gear one needs when using this type of film; I do not have a problem with using a tripod, though mine is relatively heavy (with the 3-way head attached, it weighs roughly a dozen pounds), so it is nice not to have to carry it every time I want to shoot at night. Second, I wanted to compare this film to lower speed film (specifically, Ilford’s HP5+ ISO 400) that I had shot at EI 1600, and push-processed to the higher speed rating. [3] This can be useful if you use a lab to process and scan your film; the lab I used back in Virginia [4] up-charges by nearly 100% for each push the lab needs to perform when processing the film (thus, ISO 400 to EI 1600 adds nearly 200% to the processing costs). Fuji’s Neopan 1600, on the other hand, is rated at ISO 1600 and requires no push processing. Of course, the primary reason I wanted to compare the Neopan film to Ilford’s HP5+ is that I wanted to see if there were any differences in the resulting negatives. [5] Since I process film myself these days, I do not need to worry about lab charges; the Neopan 1600 does require less time to process, however, so it does retain some of its advantages, even if you are home processing. [6]

Given that I shot this photo with a high-speed film, I did not use a tripod to set up the shot; I was able to hand-hold the camera for it. I shot the photo using the normal lens for my N80; besides my own preference for the “natural” perspective this lens provides, it is also the fastest lens I own for this camera. I also used the widest aperture setting (f/1.4) for this photo, so that the point light source (in this case, the streetlamp) would have a rounded profile; I do not like the “star” shape that results from stopped-down aperture settings. Stopping down would also mean that I would have to use a slower shutter speed, and even with the high-speed film, I was shooting fairly close to the “threshold” for handheld shooting. [7] Note that even though Neopan ISO 1600 does not require push-processing, it is still a fairly high contrast film; I suspect that this is probably a result of the chemical formulation of the film emulsion, and not because of the developer I used. Also note that the resultant image has noticeable film grain evident in it; this is an unavoidable effect of using high-speed film, as the primary means of achieving a higher film speed is to use larger silver halide grains in the emulsion. [8] Generally speaking, while I am not particularly fond of film graininess, I much prefer actual film results to the various digital versions I have seen thus far; I have not used a DSLR, so perhaps, these have better high-ISO results than the various point and shoot digital cameras I have used.



[1]: WRT film speed, the ISO number indicates the “speed” (light sensitivity) of a given film; higher ISO numbers indicate that the film is more sensitive to light (and therefore, a “faster” film). ISO numbers are also formulated on a doubling principle – ISO 1600 is twice as fast as ISO 800, the latter is twice as fast as ISO 400, etc. One of the reasons that the term “speed” is used in relation to ISO numbers is that faster (and more sensitive) films require the use of faster shutter speeds, as the former are so much more sensitive to light than slower films.

[2]: Official description of Neopan ISO 1600 here, from the Fuji USA website.

[3]: “EI” is the abbreviation for “Exposure Index,” which is just a fancy way of saying that I shot the film at a different speed than that at which it was originally rated. Exposing film in this manner means that one needs to adjust the processing parameters when developing the film; shooting at an EI that is faster than the rated speed is called a “push,” while shooting at an EI that is slower than the rated speed is called a “pull.” These two terms refer, respectively, to adding extra time or subtracting time from the standard amount of time the film needs to be immersed and agitated in the developer solution.

[4]: Richmond Camera Shop on 21st Street in Norfolk, VA. If you live in Virginia and are near one of their branch shops, I highly recommend availing yourself of their services. From my experience, the staff is quite knowledgeable about photographic issues, and they are even friendly (most of the time – somewhat less so, if you’re a creepy jerk like me). You can check out their locations and services on their website. While many of their services are now geared towards digital activities, they still operate a traditional film lab, and some of the staff may even know how to use it (the staff at the Norfolk shop did, but that may not be typical for other branches; as with most things in life, your actual mileage may vary). [**]

[5]: In point of fact, there are no noticeable differences between the two. See here for a Flickr set that contains side-by-side comparisons between these two films.

[6]: Typically, I use Ilford Ilfotec DDX for push-processing, and with this developer, Neopan 1600 requires five minutes of immersion and agitation at a 1:4 dilution; HP5+ @ EI 1600 requires 13 minutes of immersion and agitation at a 1:4 dilution. See here for a search application that correlates different films with different developers, otherwise known as the Massive Development Chart, from Digitaltruth Photo.

[7]: Typically, the average person cannot hold a camera steady reliably at speeds slower than 1/60 sec., so this is usually considered to be a “threshold” value for handheld shooting. While I can hold a camera steady at 1/15 sec., I cannot do so reliably without some kind of stabilization (such as bracing against a wall or streetlamp pole – or using a tripod), and my N80 does not have any built-in stabilization, such as modern digital cameras have.

[8]: As I understand it, film grains function in an “all-or-nothing” manner, in that once the emulsion is exposed to light, the film grains become either exposed or not exposed. Depending on the incident light intensity at each point on the negative, the film grains become darker (more exposed) or remain lighter (less exposed), while non-exposed grains remain neutral. The developing process chemically stabilizes these exposed areas (making them no longer light sensitive) while washing out the unexposed grains. Larger film grains are more sensitive to light, most likely due to the increased surface area each grain presents, compared to smaller grains. The tradeoff, of course, is that larger grains are more visibly noticeable on the resulting negative; slower films have less noticeable film grains, but require longer exposure times. [*]

[*]: It is somewhat amusing to me that digital camera manufacturers have spent quite a bit of effort to reproduce realistic “film” grain in digital images, while most film manufacturers expended a great deal of effort to reduce graininess in negative films. Even now, Kodak advertises its TMax brand (one of my favorites, BTW) as the finest grained B&W negative films. See here, from the Kodak website.

[**]: Addendum, 25 May 2009: Being the super-genius that I am, I forgot to write the plug for the shop and their services, not to mention also mis-numbering my endnotes, as a result of my oversight. My bad; apologies for any confusion and/or offense this may have caused.


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