Fine Art Photography, Black and White Prints

Reference: Tips and Tricks


Caveat: the following information is based on the type of photography I do, its usefulness varies accordingly. Some of the items are not meant to be taken too seriously, others are meant to be taken very seriously. The tough part is deciding which is which.

- learning from books is good, learning from the internet is unreliable
- the value of the information provided by another photographer is directly proportional to how closely it approaches the type of photogarphy you aspire to
- "fine art photography" is a distinctly different entity from comercial photography; the former's aim is to convey an interpretation of the world, the latter's aim is to sell hamburgers and vodka
- Art Photography (note the capital "A") is what you call your work when you mess up the focus or exposure
- digital photography is great (but only for taking photos of all the junk you're selling on Ebay)

- to increase consistency, order film, paper and chemicals in bulk from a popular supplier with a high turnover
- to decrease consistency and make your life harder: buy lots of different kinds of film, buy them individually, store them at different temperatures, save a few bucks and buy expired film with an unknown history
- the best way to see if old film or paper is any good is to take it out of the box and examine it closely under strong light
- find one film-developer combination that you like, work through it, learn to understand the materials, only then should you try something new
- a different film or developer will never make a crappy image great

- when trying to refine a print or experiment in general, never change more than one thing at a time
- first make a straight print on a standard size paper at grade 2, let it dry and mull it over for a few days or weeks or months, consider the size, the crop, the contrast, the exposure; hold it up to a display light. This unhurried consideration of the image often results in a final print that you have truly taken the time to explore. Often times you may find yourself feeling too pressured in the darkroom to get the work done and won’t take sufficient time to make the proper decisions or refinements.

- you can have a nice, big stainless steel darkroom sink custom made to your specifications for less than the price of a cheap plastic one if you pay a visit to your local steelwork shop (ask for a marine grade steel, like 304 or 302)
- lucky for you and me, people are selling off all their decent camera and darkroom equipment for nothing so they can buy a 22MP back that wont even hold up to 645 (as of 2005)
- if you buy a good tripod (Gitzo, Ries, etc.) in the beginning, it will likely outlast your grandchildren

- the Wimberly Plamp is great for holding reflectors or shades
- make your own shade/reflector with a piece mat board: paint it flat black on one side and glue some crinkled up tinfoil on the other
- pipe insulating foam and a whole lot of gaffer’s tape is a great way to make your tripod more comfortable to carry and it looks great too

- don’t clean your filters or lenses unless they need it, and when they do, proceed as follows: blow, brush, wipe; avoid any desire to lick
- don’t put a $20 filter in front of hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth of glass
- if using under-the-lens filters on your enlarger, place them as close to the lens as possible
- if applicable, store your lenses with the shutters fired

- if using a meter with a trigger (like the Pentax Digital Spot), store it in such a way that the trigger cannot be pressed accidentally
- always have 2 extra batteries for your meter

- fiber paper is a whole lot nicer than RC, and therefore you will have to splurge on a dry mount press (be sure to get one that is open on the sides)
- a cold-light head (or diffused sources in general) will save you a lot of time with a spotting brush
- if its worth taking a picture of… if its worth processing… if its worth printing… if its worth framing… its worth doing it right; if you want to half-ass your photography, pick up a cheap digital camera and have Mal-Wart make some 4x6s for you

- art and computers don't get along

- when in the snow or soft sand, do NOT open the tripod legs all the way against the stops before you push them in; the leverage can break even the finest tripods (I think I saw this tip posted by John Sexton somewhere)
- if you are going to hike around with the camera on the tripod, take the cable release off; its bound to get caught on something
- carry an extra cable release

- take some time and study your subject before you set up the camera
- tiny changes in camera position can make a big difference; check the Polaroid
- the “best” light is never present when you first show up

- only you can run your tests
- only you know what the final print should look like
- no one else cares about your work as much as you do

- a new camera can’t make you a better photographer
- much of the equipment that Weston, Adams, Strand, etc. used would be crap by many of today’s standards
- good equipment doesn’t take good pictures, good photographers do

- Polaroids tell you nothing about exposure; they do tell you about composition

- the car is a bad place to store your film; think mangled VHS tapes
- heat will increase the film base + fog density and may push your highlights up onto the shoulder
- when they discontinue your favorite film or paper, think like a Mormon and start stock-piling, then buy a big chest-freezer to store it all in

- set the camera to “Bunny Rabbit” for fast moving shots, like when you take pictures of bunnies running
- set the camera to “Flower” for EXTREME close-ups
- set the camera to “Face” for glamorous portraits
- set the camera to “Mountain” when you go to Yosemite and you will get the exact same images as Ansel Adams
- set any camera with these settings under the tire of your car and back up
- zoom lenses mean that you no longer have to walk when out photographing, just turn the zoom ring until you get the shot you like
- automation destroys learning
- automation destroys creativity

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All images Copyright Todd Schoenbaum 2005