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Back to the Basics

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Jul 04

Watch the video above to see the winners from last weeks self portrait article! We got so many entries, it was so hard to chose!

1st place and a Phlearn PRO of their choice goes to Asier Aristregui!
2nd place and a Phlearn PRO of their choice goes to Johanna Maja!
3rd place and  Phlearn PRO their choice goes to Adam Raasalhague!
Congratulations guys! To receive your Phlearn Pro’s please fill out a contact form! Or else, email us at [email protected]

Thanks again everyone and we hope to see just as many entries this week for our next contest. The next contest is described at the end of this article! Good luck!

Back to the Basics

By: Kate Rockhold

Two years ago I was nervously walking to class sign ups, my bag filled with registration papers, and a list of classes that I wanted to take. Since I was entering my freshman year at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), the majority of my classes were already assigned to me. As I was looking at my schedule, I saw that I was enrolled in “Black and White Film and Print” with professor Al Winn. Since I had only dabbled in film my freshman year of high school, I was pretty nervous. I was positive that I would make an utter fool of myself.

Boy was I right.

Professor Winn turned out to be an older professor, who lacked patience and basic manners. The class was every Friday morning, at 9am sharp. Every week we would print with a different developer or a different type of paper to see how it would change our image. I remember taking my first full-sized print to him. It was dripping wet, too light, and had too much contrast. He looked down at my print, looked up at me and said, “Are you fucking joking?” That pretty much set the tone for the semester:  although the class was scheduled for three hours, I routinely stayed late, always the last to leave. Professor Winn wouldn’t let me leave until I had made a print that was halfway decent…and that took a while.

Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties, I learned more in my first semester at CalArts than I had my whole high school career. Professor Winn gave me hours of work in the darkroom, and my other classes gave me hours of work in the library. I was researching artists, most of whom I had never heard of, writing papers on art movements that I wasn’t familiar with, and making photographs that I had never dreamed I’d take. My taste and style dramatically changed.  I went from over-edited digital photos to film. Over the course of my first year, I started to shoot film more and more. Now, after my second year at CalArts, I almost exclusively shoot film. I retreat to the darkroom at least once a week, and spend hours at a time perfecting one print. Film is more costly, more time consuming, and more frustrating. So why do I do it?

It’s a question that people ask me a lot. I’m not even sure that I have a complete answer. There’s a magic, a beauty, to film that is almost impossible to achieve in digital. In digital, you can keep snapping away until you’ve got your shot. That’s not practical in film. Since you are limited in the number of shots you can take per roll (in my case, I have 12 photos per roll of film, at $5 a roll, that’s 42¢ for every photo I take), it’s important that you think ahead and properly compose your shots. Currently I shoot with a 1937 Voigtländer Brillant, which is an early version of a TLR (twin lens reflex) 6×6 medium format camera. This Austrian camera has it quirks – it is impossible to focus, has light leaks, and it’s film advancer can stick – but it gives my photos character, and makes them unique. I can’t imagine shooting with anything else

After shooting a roll of film (if you’re shooting 120 film with 6×6 negatives, this means you’ll have only 12 photos per roll of film), you get to develop. While you can send your film out, I generally develop my black and white film myself. Not only is it cheaper to do this, but I also can “push” or “pull” my film. When you push film, you lengthen the time in developer, when you pull, you shorten.

A test print by Richard Avedon. The markings on the print indicate seconds to burn or dodge in the darkroom.

This effects the thickness of the film, and the contrast. After developing your first couple rolls of film, you get the hang of it, and can soon develop multiple rolls of film a day. Looking at film you’ve shot is one of the best feelings in the world; you are filled with anticipation. Sometimes I leave exposed film in my fridge, and develop them months after I’ve shot them. It’s a fun surprise to see photos that I had taken months ago, and fall in love with them all over again.

Finally, there’s the darkroom. While I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that rotten-egg smell, I love it all the same. It’s so nice to spend the day in the cool darkness, printing again and again until you get it perfect, until the image on paper matches the image in your mind. Printing is just as much of an art as taking the photograph. It can take hours before you get a print right. Photographer Richard Avedon was famous for his printing ability. It’s slowly becoming a lost art – a lot of photographers who shoot film have assistants print their work.

One of Jerry Uelsmann’s darkroom masterpieces.

Artist Jerry Uelsmann does unbelievable work in the darkroom, he has Photoshop-like skills. While altering images in the darkroom is not unheard of (the most common ways to “edit” your photo is to burn, dodge, and do multiple exposures), Uelsmann takes it to a whole new level. While what he creates can be created easily in Photoshop, Uelsmann produces his work only in the darkroom, by hand. He uses up to eight different enlargers, and complex methods of burning and dodging, he is able to create surreal masterpieces.

A lot of people wonder why Uelsmann doesn’t just convert to digital and photoshop — his images look as though they were photoshopped, and using digital would save hours of his time. Uelsmann simply answers, “…I’m still analog. I still enjoy the process of creating the mountain I’m climbing.” He couldn’t have phrased it better. Printing in the darkroom is a long and tedious process. One has to print on light sensitive paper, and then spend about 10 or so minutes developing the paper with a number of different chemicals. When you finally come out into the light, you can see what needs to be changed before trudging back into the darkness to do it all over again.

Some of the greatest photographers and artists shot only film. William Eggleston is one of my favorite photographers. He was one of the first great photographers to use color film. Back in the day, color film was considered consumer grade, and only black and white photography could be considered fine art. He changed the photography world by shooting color, and calling it fine art. He has this amazing ability to photograph mundane American objects – from everyday people, to cans, to street signs – and make them unbelievably beautiful. There are a number of reasons why film helped make his images stand out, the main reason being his printing process in the darkroom. Eggleston printed his photos using the dye-transfer process.  Dye transfer prints are arguably the best way to print color – they allow for the most color possibilities. However, it is an expensive and tedious process.  As a result, there are only a few photographers and printing companies today that use the process.

For me, there’s a greater emotional attachment to my image when I shoot film. From loading the film, to printing from negatives, there is a physical connection with film that you don’t get with digital. The headache you get from the smells of the chemicals, the soreness in your feet from standing all day in the darkroom. Shooting digital would be easier – there’s just something about challenging yourself that keeps me coming back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up a negative, or a print. I’ve exposed a whole box of paper (costing me $50…yikes!). The process from shooting to the final product is a journey, and when you reach the end of that process, the result is so much sweeter.  I encourage you to give film a shot, and see where it takes you and your photography.

The Challenge

For this weeks challenge, the interns had to either shoot a roll of film, or take photos that were inspired by film. No editing allowed!

Kate’s Results:

My four photos are from a roll of film I shot while at an antique store. I thought taking photos of antiques would be fitting, since my camera is almost 80 years old itself. The store was filled with shadowy lighting, and since I was shooting with ISO 400 film, I had to have long exposures. The long exposures gave my images a soft motion blur, one that I’m rather fond of. Also, I left this roll of film out in the sunlight for a day or two, which is why there are white streaks along the sides of the photos.


Jenna’s Results:

I feel like this challenge would have been different if I used one of my film cameras for it but unfortunately, I don’t have the means to do that right now.  But if I did, I would have 36 chances to get a picture right with one roll of film.  With film,  I don’t know what the exact outcome of the photos is going to be and that’s the wonderful thrill that comes with it.  When I shoot with film, I don’t have the filter on my brain wondering what I could do to this image in Photoshop, I take the image to simply capture that moment in time.

Here are some examples of film images that I took during freshman year of college.  My concepts were simple, my eyes were seeking anything that looked interesting, and I focused a lot on how people interacted with the environments they were in.

After having a few years of photography education under my belt, I’ve expanded my horizons but at the same time, I’ve also started to view photography differently.  My intentions were to have the same mind-set I did when I first started photography and yesterday during a photo shoot with Aaron, Angela, Kate, and a lovely model named Nina, I focused on just that.

I went into the photo shoot with no solid concept but with ideas that I wanted to experiment with.  The shoot was intended to be a learning process and that’s exactly what it was.  Throughout the entire shoot, I was ignoring trying to find a way to take conceptual images and how to manipulate them on Photoshop, instead I focused on what I thought was beautiful.  Here is my favorite image from the shoot that I took through a window placed on a tree.  Shooting through the glass gave the image a soft and dreamy look that I love:

Angela’s Results:

A challenge inspired by film? This challenge almost sounded foreign to me.

In my program at ACAD (Alberta College of Art & Design) they just recently brought back teaching darkroom in the curriculum. Unfortunately for me I have hundreds and hundreds of allergies, some which include the chemicals used in developing- so when I need to develop film I need to prep myself by looking like I’m about to walk into a tunnel full of nuclear waste.

On a more serious note, I’ve used film cameras before. Pretty much all of them, as my class required me to do so. I loved taking photos with them, I loved the result, but what I didn’t like was the process, and that was simply because of my allergies and my asthma. So doing a challenge inspired by film, rather than a challenge done with film was actually quite nice. It was fun to bring my photos into Photoshop and do nothing but crop, and burn and dodge.

My professor Cathy last year showed our class an interesting method for burning and dodging, which I find works quite well. I’ll tell you how to do it! In Photoshop create a new layer on your file, but don’t click the new layer button on the bottom menu. Do it from the top. From the top click Layer, then New, then Layer. Once the dialog box pops up change the mode to soft light, and make sure to click the box that says “fill with soft-light-neutral color (50% gray).” Then you can burn and dodge from that particular layer. Use black and white brushes to determine what areas of the image you want darker or lighter, and I find this works the best when you have the opacity and fill set to very low. Mine was set to opacity 10%, fill 30%, but this is of course just a preference. This is how I edited my self-portraits. These self-portraits are very experimental, and really don’t have a large concept behind them other than to be inspired by film. I also shot with a very high ISO (of 5000 to be exact) to get a very grainy photo. Hope you guys like them, let me know what you think! :)


Your Challenge!

Alright phamily, it’s time for this week’s challenge! This week’s article is on film, but you are not required to submit a film photo for the challenge (though it’d be awesome if you did!). Rather, you need to submit a photo that is black and white, and relatively unedited. You are only allowed to edit photos in ways you can edit them in the darkroom, meaning you can: crop, convert it to black and white, adjust contrast and  brightness, burn and dodge.

What you’re not allowed to do: add textures, airbrush, add noise, and any other thing that you can’t do in a darkroom.

Submit your black and white film inspired photo by Tuesday the 10th, noon CST if you’d like to be eligible to win a free PRO tutorial! Good luck!

  • Eli Sa
  • Ian Arneson

    Hammer time!

  • Caio Porciuncula

    Great article Kate! I really haven’t had much experience with film and the Darkroom, so your article was really enlightening!

    I am going to die with this challenge! No photoshop? hahaha. I am such a big photoshop guy, but i think it will be a great experience not editing the pictures at all. I am going out tomorrow to take some pictures and see what i can come up with. Wish me luck :)

  • Conn Young

    You can add textures and grain in the darkroom! ;)

  • Jenna Petrone

    Very true! For example, Joel-Peter Witkin : )

  • Earthrokk

    Do these ladies understand what was achievable Ina darkroom? I real am disappointed with this contest lack of historical and technological understanding of photography…gasp

  • Alyssa

    A street shot in Tokyo.

  • Angela Butler ♔

    Do I understand everything that’s achievable in the darkroom? No. Not completely.

    Does Jenna and Kate? I’m not sure.

    In my classes in college we really don’t take too many classes about the history of photography and film. We’ve watched films on the history of photography that concentrates more on the photographs, we learn about photography technicalities, and we learn about photoshop. This is what I learn under my bachelor of design. It’s a degree in design so film isn’t one of the priorities of things to learn about. I said I took a darkroom class, but that’s all it was. A darkroom class. As in- here’s a camera, this is how you use it, here’s how you load the film, and here’s the darkroom, here’s how you do everything in it, the end.

    Also Kate wrote this article, Jenna and I contributed our photos. I don’t think Kate’s intention was to teach Phlearn about the history and the technical side of photography, I think she wrote this as more of an opinion based article about what she’s interested in then anything else.

    I’m sorry if you didn’t like it Earthrokk and please let us know what could of made it a better read for you.

  • Hedtler Tanya

    :) great job to the interns and heres my photo, hope you all like it!

  • Amelia Julie Dowd

    Wow, guys, your shots are gorgeous. Very raw, very authentic. Good job :)

  • Christopher Odd

    A July 4th shout out, but no Canada Day shout out?! …gasp ;)

  • arrowlili

    Awesome article and very inspirational!
    I actually sold my first ever print recently for an slr film camera and lenses. I now have a section of my fridge dedicated to storing film and am part way through my first roll. It is such a different feel and thought process that goes into taking a shot with it. I do hope, one day, to learn the darkroom process but will have to send it in for now.
    I now have a great urge to finish that roll, just a shame it isn’t black and white 😞 but maybe I’ll get a chance to use a different roll before the challenge ends, if not, it’ll just make me look at digital with a different eye!

  • Asier Aristregui

    Thank you guys! Gag, I can’t believe it!!! Thank you so much, seriously! 
    By the way, so funny the way you pronounced my name haha. A hard one I guess. Thanks again :)

  • Hassnal Adam Sulaiman

    Congratulations Asier and also to Johanna!!

    I thought it was funny how all of the winners this week have got ‘unique’ names!!! I wonder what Kate said at 1:47. The look on Angela’s face was total ‘OMG! we’re gonna have to cut that bit out!’.  hahaha.

    Anyway, Thank you guys! :D This really made my day. (Winning Phlearn Pro, that is) :P

  • arrowlili

    OK, I’ve decided to go with a film inspired shot but if i get a chance then i might try and add a film shot scanned in.

    i just shot this about 10 mins ago and used Angela’s high ISO idea to add grain.  it’s been converted to b&w, had a slight contrast adjustment and some d&b. hope you like it!


  • Kate Rockhold

    Hey Earthrokk,
    This article is about photographers who I love (who use film), my personal experience using film, and why I use it over digital. We can totally write an article about the history and technology of photography! Yes, agreed, there’s lots you can do in the darkroom! Ueslmann is a great example of that.

    We’re all looking forward to seeing everyone’s submission! Good luck!

    - Kate

  • Kate Rockhold

    Good luck! Looking forward to seeing your results!

  • Joshua Shephard
  • Angela Butler ♔

    Hahahahahha yeah pretty much. I tend to have a very expressive face, and also a very hard time pronouncing names apparently. :P

    Congrats guys! 

  • Angela Butler ♔

    There’s no Phlearn episode on Sunday!!!! I would of otherwise haha!! :)

  • Christopher Odd

    And you! Of ALL people ;)

  • agustin
  • Kate Rockhold

    Beautiful! Can you please pick one or two photos for the contest? Thanks!

  • agustin

    Hi kate! this is the photo I chose for the contest.

  • Rubén Chase

    My first double exposure!


  • Linzi

    I was going to post a film photo, but looking at the few I have from my black and white class (6 yrs ago) I just can’t. They’re horrendous, lol. This is a digital photo converted to black and white. I shot this in December so I don’t remember what I did to it, but from the look of it, a little contrast and a little dodge and burn. I need to shoot black and white more often!! Anyway, I do remember I was going for the Old Hollywood glamour type look and we had a lot of fun. :)

  • Izayaa™

    Here’s my submission. I’m new to photography, like, I just got my first DSLR Sunday! A week ago. Lol. So these challenges will be good for me! They will help me learn (even though I’ve been watching Phlearn months before I got my camera)! But now I can finally put what I’ve learned into a physical result. This was my first challenge and project with my new camera. I wanted it to have a story, even though I just used simple things I found around the house (Lol). The message might not be obvious, but I tried! Can anyone interpret it? :)

  • Rob Rice

    Here’s my submission!! There was a burn ban in my area so I didn’t get to play with any fireworks until this weekend when I went out of state. Sparklers are still fun…

    I cropped a tiny bit, desaturated, played with brightness and contrast a bit, and dodged and burned a tad as well. 

    Great post by the way!! I took a film class one summer in college and loved it! I sure do miss spending hours upon hours in the darkroom. Oh, the smell of stop bath in the wee hours of the night…

  • MMcNiven

    the darkroom used to be so much fun but I am such an impatient person, I am so grateful for the immediacy of digital these days. Here is my entry.

  • Timmy Reynolds

    Love the article and tried to do my best. I shot at a decently high ISO 1000 because I don’t have a film camera and to get that grainy look like Angela did. I tried to push stuff out of the way for this but couldn’t quite get all of it, makes you kinda miss photoshop. I still think film is odd probably because I don’t use it often so wanted to somehow convey this message of oddness hope you like it,ti Ironic Bath. Only change was brightness.

  • SxS

    Inspirational article! I sometimes miss film; the long hours in the darkroom, developing film & experimenting with layering negatives. At first I denounced digital photography, but once I picked up my first digital SLR * Canon Rebel 300D * I abandoned film and sold all of my darkroom equipment to purchase photoshop.

  • Ernestd

    Have always been inspired by the 30′s-50′s Hollywood glamour photographers and the Noir look. I found this alley by my house, asked a model to join me, grabbed an overcoat and into the night we went. Shot with a 5D and two speed lights. Post was crop, a little dodge and burn, converted to B&W and sorry had to spot remove the phone# from the sign. 

  • agustin

    another picture for the contest!

  • Sérgio Galvão
  • Timmy Reynolds

    was not naked… in shorts

  • Caio Porciuncula

    I had a problem with my internet and ISP and i didn’t gain acess to it until now! Sorry!I hope you guys can still consider my submission. 

    Here’s my entry. I made it into B&W, did some small contrast/brightness adjustments, and used and abused of Dodge and Burn! :)

    Personally, I don’t like the look of noise in pictures, so i just used an ISO of 200 i think ( or something like that, it was low) and used my 50 mm 1.8 lens to achieve all the bokeh :)

  • SxS

    Wow, that was rude Earthrokk. If you know so much about film, where is your blog and contest submission? There is always a person who steps out of the shadows just to make themselves feel better about the void in their life. Ladies, word of advice, dont take negative feedback from people too serious if they don’t understand the seriousness of spellcheck.
     I enjoyed your article, and found it solid and a good read. During my BFA (which was before digital became mainstream) all of my courses were film. Id spend over 12 hours at a time preparing for midterms and finals experimenting and trying to push for something different. Truth is, it’s nearly impossible to know and achieve every single technique there is in the darkroom. I’ve been exposed to some amazing photos from the pictorialist movement (photo-secession) and no matter how much research I dedicated to trying to figure it out, I’m still just as confused at how they achieved seemly photoshopped images.  
    As far as the historical side of film. As a fellow student, all I can do is respect it. No matter how much you know about the past, the only thing that is important is what inspires you to develop your own personal style. Despite my history of photography book being thicker than  my encyclopedia collection, I only remember and focus on the content that I can relate to. 
    Keep up the good work and I look forward to your next post.
    p.s. How do I collect my prize from the fashion contest?

  • Jenna Petrone
  • Priscilla Lumbreras


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