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Experiments in Composition

Back in December I was not too far from my home town and I drove past another abandoned farmhouse that I knew I had to shoot as part of my on-going series on farmland and barns in Michigan.

An abandoned farm house with junk in front of it

One of my main goals with these photos was to challenge myself to think outside the box on my compositions. Many of my photos tend to follow very basic compositions like the Rule of Thirds and when viewed in succession, it can get obvious and boring to look at. On this outing, I wanted to experiment with more styles to see how they changed the story of the image.

Much of my inspiration came from Willem Verbeeck’s and Nick Carver’s YouTube channels. To be 100% honest, I don’t actually like a whole lot of their work. But, one thing I was able to take away from their work is their different approaches to composition. Verbeeck has this very odd way of framing photos that makes a lot of his work look like photos of nothing. But what’s really happening is the subjects of his photo are as obvious as they first seem. You can see many examples of what I’m talking about in this video.

This photo was very much inspired by Verbeeck

Where Verbeeck goes complex, Carver goes super simple. His more popular photos are all done on a panoramic medium format film camera with the subject of the image dead center in the frame. It’s an intriguing combination, as most panoramics are made with the intent of fitting in a very wide or tall subject into the entire frame without zooming out and potentially loosing the subject in the extra vertical space. Carver’s photos use the panoramic to instead draw their subject out of the frame even more by putting them in their empty context.

While not panoramic, the simple framing of the subject is inspired by Carver’s work. Although I wish I shot it with a shallower depth of field as the building in the background is distracting.

Like all of the images in this series, I used the Mamiya C330 medium format film camera with Ilford film. For being almost 50 years old, the Mamiya Sekor 80mm f/2.8 is astoundingly sharp when stopped down. Here’s a 1-to-1 crop on the upper-right on the tractor grill from the earlier image taken at f/11.

Click to see a full-size version

This is from a flatbed scan from a mid-level epson scanner and the film is still out-resolving the 45 mega pixel TIFF. This image has more detail in it than anything I’ve shot with my A7ii. Crazy!

I think the experiment was a resounding success as I feel the images I took on this outing are some of the best I’ve ever made. It wasn’t until I scanned the tractor image that I was sold on the idea that this series could really become something more. Additionally, after taking and reviewing these photos I think I have a better understanding of Verbeeck’s work. Things appear cut off or the subject is unclear because he’s trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to photograph a feeling or even just a color rather than a subject.

If you like these photos you can them and more over on the project page. If you like my photography, you can follow me on instagram for my up to date work.

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5 Frames of Ilford FP4+

This article originally appeared on emulsive.com on April 17, 2020

I grew up in an area that used to be completely farm land about 100 years ago. Some of the smaller family owned farms are still in operation, but almost all of the original land owners decided a long time ago that the money from selling the land would be more than the money they’d be paid by continuing to sell crops. The original plots of land still have the original farm house and barn, both of which now look out of place on a much more modestly sized plot of land.

Fast forward 100 years and most of the owners these old buildings are poor and don’t have the money to keep up with repairs. The barns are in especially poor condition since they serve less practical value than the house. I wanted to capture these buildings before more of them fall over from age or are torn down from condemnation. There’s something about old barns that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes me love them. These giant yet practical buildings have withstood the test of time and were often put together by a single family or the community working together.

I had never shot black and white on medium format before, so I took my newly acquired Mamiya C330 Professional, the 80mm f/2.8 Mamiya Sekor and a 120 roll of Ilford FP4+ to start my project. The C330 is a twin lens reflex with a waist level viewfinder that’s notable for having an interchangeable lens system, unlike most other TLRs. Mamiya is generally known for well made medium format cameras with sharp glass, and the C330 appears to be no exception. It shoots 12 6×6 negatives on a roll, which was great for me, as I’ve never shot anything other than 2:3 pictures and it acted as a good creative limitation.

The smooth tones and fine grain were exactly what I was looking for when I choose FP4+, and I couldn’t be happier with how these images turned out. I developed these negatives in Rodinal with a 1:25 dilution for nine minutes and scanned them on an Espon v600.

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Scrapped Car

Click for a larger version

Recently, I’ve started a new personal project in to get more hands on experience with black and white film photography. The area where I grew up used to be completely farm land about 100 years ago. Some farms are still in operation, but almost all of the families decided that the money from selling the land is more than the money they’d get selling crops.

However, quite often the original plots of land still have the barn and house that ran the old farm. These buildings wont be here for much longer; the barns especially have fallen into complete disrepair. I wanted to capture these rustic buildings with black and white film to show them in a new light. Hopefully if I can get enough interesting photos from this, I can turn it into a zine or even a book.

When I got to the property where I shot this photo, I was just planning on photographing this old tobacco ad painted on the side of this barn when I found this old car sitting behind it and I knew it would be the perfect subject for the FP4+ I was shooting. This was shot handheld with the Mamiya C330 Professional and the 80mm f2.8. It was developed in Rodinal at 1:25 dilution for nine minutes.

Despite being scanned on a flat bead scanner, I’m pretty happy with the resolution I was able to pull out of this (after tons of sharpening in Lightroom). This 6×6 negative was scanned at 3,600 dpi which created a 150 mb TIFF file.