Photostock – Part II

Photostock is all but over now. A party is ongoing, and for a few die-hards it will go on for several more hours.

Today we had print sharing. Many of the attendees, including me, laid out work for any to see and laid bare our artistic souls. It was fine. I got some very nice feedback, including from Christina Anderson, one of the keynote presenters this year. I also saw some very nice work from several people.

Then we had a print exchange. All of us that brought a print for the exchange were given a numbered ticket. When your number was drawn, you got the next print in the random queue. I got a nice color print from an older lady that I just happened to be standing next to. Unfortunately, her nametag wasn’t visible, and I can’t read the signature on the print! Oh, well.

The gentleman that got my print (Eric) came over and told me how thrilled he was with the print. That was very gracious of him and nice to hear. What was above and beyond was when he approached me this evening and reiterated his praise and gratitude. He really likes the print! Well, now, that certainly made my day.


In the afternoon, there was an informal open house at Bill Schwab’s new workshop facility and darkroom. Some one had found a really nice stainless darkroom sink for the darkroom, and so the ABS sink it replaced was available. I was willing to take it, as I had driven to Photostock in my pickup. Everyone was happy.


Tonight, we had three more presentations by artists. All different. All passionate. All worth hearing.

And now, the party.

I’m a bit worn out for partying, and I wanted to get some thoughts down before turning off for the night.

In a few days, after returning home and processing all of the past two and a half days, I’ll be able to determine what it will mean for me, if anything. At that time I probably will write some more meaningful posts about Photostock.

My own photography is at a crossroads, and that was well in mind before coming here. The speakers all reinforced the need for us to move on. So, we’ll see.

Stay tuned.


Photostock – Part I

Just finished the first full day of Photostock 2015. Photostock began in the summer of 2006 as a gathering of photographers who, for the most part, had never met before. It was a post Bill Schwab made on the website APUG that got it started.

There were 20 people the first year and now it has grown to over 100, each year bringing diverse and talented people together to share knowledge, experience and grow as photographers.


The format is scheduled and loose at the same time. This year there are numerous presentations, mostly by artist photographers about their work and/or processes. The first one was last night (Thursday – a partial day) about making dry plates with silver bromide. This was followed by talks from two persons about their work.

Today (Friday) there were a few more of the same. The general theme, whether planned or not, seems to me to be to experiment, or at least, get out of one’s comfort zone and make new work!

I’m game!


In the near future, I will outline my plans for the future of my own work. Last year, at the SILVER exhibition, a viewer commented that my photos were not what they were used to seeing from me. She hasn’t seen anything yet.

Even given all that, the highlight of the day was viewing a film about Eugene Atget and Berenice Abbott. The film highlighted their relationship – Abbott was Atget’s assistant near the end of his life, and was responsible for preserving his work after his death – and how each of them were pioneers in their own, similar ways.

Good stuff!

Tomorrow is print sharing, a visit to the almost completed (but already in use) workshop facility, and a few more presentations!

Stay tuned.


Photostock 2015

Tomorrow morning I head out for a drive across country. Leaving Texas, I will end up in Northern Michigan at Photostock 2015. Photostock is a gathering started by photographer Bill Schwab years ago.

This is my first Photostock. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea, but it is 1300 miles away. So, why am I going? Well, because I’ve always been intrigued by the idea …

I met Bill Schwab in 2013 when my wife and I went on one of the photo tours he takes periodically to Iceland. It was a great trip and we made friends of the group of 9 folks who spent the time there together. Bill is a great guy, a great photographer, and I always figured Photostock would be a class act as well.

Why am I driving? I’m not fond of flying – done my share. I’m not against it, but I avoid it if not necessary. Driving will have it’s advantages in that I can take a lot more photo gear, and more prints to show and share with the other photographers. All a part of Photostock. Plus, I’m taking a less than direct route to get there. I have set up two “shoots” on the way.

Currently, I am photographing historic pipe organs in East Texas and surrounding areas for the archives of the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival.

Last year, I volunteered to do photo documentation of these instruments. The project is ongoing. The work is all color, and all digital. On the way to Photostock, I’ll be stopping and working in Shreveport, LA and Vicksburg, MS.

Should be fun. I’ll report back in the blog all about Photostock, and maybe an organ pipe or two.

Longview greatchest

Shadow Detail – Part II

Shadow detail is over-rated!

The prior post discussed shadow detail in a photograph. Shadow detail is one of those conventional wisdom “rules” for which many photographers strive. It has led to all sorts of exposure and developing methods by various photographers over many years, in order to insure “adequate shadow detail”. Then, of course, there is the accompanying “rule” that holds that a good black and white print must have a bit of solid black, and just a bit of solid white, and all the tones in between. Well, maybe.

It is good practice to “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights”. One wants as much detail in a negative (or digital file) as possible. You cannot print it if it isn’t there in the original negative or file! But, just because it is there in the original, does not mean it has to always be in the print. Some rules are made to be broken occasionally.  Brett Weston, for instance, started breaking this rule almost a century ago.

There is no substitute for seeing good prints. Books and computer screens are inadequate. It can be hard for some aspiring photographers to see a lot of good gallery or museum quality prints, but it is still necessary if one’s own printing is ever going to reach a certain level. You have to know what you’re striving for.

I’ve been lucky. I know good photographers and good printers (not always the same persons) and I have access to good galleries and museum collections. I’ve made a point of traveling to see important shows and collections. It’s an investment in my own development as a photographer. But, I digress.

One of the most important things I have learned from seeing so many original prints is from the work of Brett Weston. I readily acknowledge that Weston is a big influence on my own work. Brett was not afraid of the dark. If it was black, it is black in the print. It was a way for him to turn a photograph into an abstraction, rather than a literal recordation of a scene. If it’s just negative space; maybe it doesn’t require detail just to show off one’s printing skills! The obvious examples are his images of negative space, such as Broken Window, San Francisco (1937),


or this 1925 image of a corrugated tin roof.


There is the well-known Garrapata Beach (1954) BW Garrapata Beach

or the Oceano Dunes.

BW-Dune-1934-printed 1980

In the Garrapata Beach image, (it may not be easy to see on a computer monitor, or even in a reproduction in a book) there is detail in the shadows on the sand of the beach, however, the shadow on the rock in the left side to the picture is completely black in the prints I’ve seen. Even in the landscape, where so many photographers jump through hoops to have all that shadow detail, Weston would let shadows go completely black, if that’s the way he saw (or interpreted) the scene. I made this picture at a crumbling building, a not uncommon subject. There was some light in the background, but I elected to “channel Brett” and make the shadow black.

herring 7a

And then there is the problem negative I referenced in the prior post on shadow detail.


As I said, I had used this negative for teaching purposes, but never really made a “show to other people” print. Until it dawned on me that what I had pointed the camera at was the bright trapezoid. The subject was the shape, not the light and shadow! The shadow was simply the frame. My metering and work methods are such that I had shadow detail, but it wasn’t needed. I printed to let the shadow go completely black, and I think the image is much stronger, if not as “impressive” from a printing technique standpoint.

Sometimes, occasionally, black is black!

At the other end of the light scale, there is paper white. I haven’t experimented a lot with this yet, but I will. One example from years ago is the candle flame from the post Photographing Light. Last year I saw an exhibition of John Singer Sargent watercolors. He very effectively used the paper white for his highlights, which is common in watercolor. What was a little uncommon was the extent to which he employed the technique is certain paintings. He was not afraid of the light!

It works both ways.

Shadow Detail – Part I

Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights.

A good piece of advice for a beginning photographer. What this teaches is that shadow areas need to have enough exposure so that there is something on the negative, i.e., detail in the shadows and not just flat black. You can’t print it if it’s not on the negative or in the digital file! So, one sets the exposure so that shadow areas register two or three stops above flat black (or no light).

For film users, develop for the highlights means to process the negative so that the opposite, the lightest value, does not go to total white, but still has “detail in the highlights”. Digital exposure for highlights is another discussion.

Ansel Adams, and others, codified this in the “Zone System”, a method to (among other things) control the exposure and development of black and white film. To oversimplify: There are 11 “zones” from Zone 0 (total black – clear on a negative) to Zone 10 (total – or “paper” white – or maximum density [black] on a negative). Zones 1-9 (In Adams’ writings, et al, the Zones are in Roman Numerals) are considered the “printable” dynamic range, with only zones 2-8 showing any “visible texture”.


Each zone is one stop of exposure or value more or less than the adjacent zones. Zone 5 is “middle grey”, and is what light meters are (theoretically) measuring for. In its simplest application. when metering a scene, one generally adjusts the exposure so that the darkest area (often a shadow) receives enough exposure to be printable at Zone 3. Then, development is adjusted so that the lightest area that one wishes to retain detail will settle out to about Zone 7.

That’s the goal. Many sheet film users, who develop each sheet of film separately, and thereby adjust their development for each, can use the Zone System in its purest form. However, roll film users have to compromise, as we cannot develop individual negatives on a roll, they all get the same processing.

Real life throws in more complications. The light in scenes being photographed, especially outdoors, can often span way more than 9 stops of value brightness. Black and white film may record more than 11 stops if exposed and developed carefully. So, a brightness ratio of more than 10 or 11 stops is “compressed” onto the film, or a decision has to be made what to let go off the scale on either end. (A light source in the image, for instance, will usually be so bright that it is off the scale above Zone 10.)

Silver gelatin printing paper has even less range, and whatever is on the negative has to be compressed or manipulated even more in the print. The photograph below (bright sunlight through an opening in an outdoor overhang) was exposed well enough so that there is detail in the negative for the center, sunlit area; and the shadow around it.

trapazoid neg

But printing both on paper is a challenge. When printed “straight”, either the shadow goes completely black,

trapazoid neg black

or the light area washes out.

trapazoid neg white

I have used this negative in teaching to demonstrate just this problem, and some of the solutions.

We accomplish such solutions in the darkroom by a combination of contrast grades, dodging and burning, exposure variations, and chemical development manipulations. Digital workers do similar things with software. But, the fact remains that if it is not on the negative or in the digital file, i.e., it’s too dark or too light, it can’t be printed. Color materials generally have less latitude than black and white, with color slides being worse than color negatives; and digital has historically suffered as well, although improvements in dynamic range captured by digital sensors are constantly being made.  (Shoot raw!)

From a craft standpoint, a skillfully made print from a well exposed negative or digital file – one with both good shadow detail and detail in the highlights – is a beautiful thing to behold. Hence, the axiom “Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights” has became a rule for many photographers. It’s not a bad rule. It is especially valuable when metering a scene to determine optimal exposure for the film or sensor.

But, then there’s the print. The prior post (see: Less light) discussed shadows, and showed some examples where the shadows were essentially the subject.  But what if a shadow is not the subject, but is just a shadow?

Next post: Shadow Detail, Part II: Shadow detail is over-rated!

Less Light

The absence of light is darkness, but when light is present, yet blocked, we get a shadow.

To be technical:

A shadow is a region where the source of light is obstructed by an object. The shadow occupies all of the three-dimensional volume behind an object with light in front of it. The cross section of a shadow is a two-dimensional silhouette, a projection of the object blocking the light. (adapted from Wikipedia)

Light has been said to be the bread and butter of photography. Many of us believe that the shadows are as important as the light. Everybody has photographed light and shadow, just some do it more deliberately than others.


Google “shadow photographs” or “light and shadow photographs” and zillions of examples come up, including some classics.

I’m no different. On both my trip to Iceland in 2013, and to California and the West in 2014, I came home with some shadow pictures among the favorites from the trips.

herring 6a

I really could make a whole series of this type of image, but it’s been done. It’s still very appealing, though, as it makes light and the effect of light the actual subject of the photograph.

Shadows are inescapable unless the light is very, very flat. Shadowless light is not very flattering, though, either to the landscape or to people.

Look for the light, look for the shadows, and make more photographs.

Oh, and place the shadows on Zone III …


See: More Light, Candle