How I Plan My Landscape Photos for the Highest Chances of Success
My name is Albert Dros, and I am a professional landscape photographer from the Netherlands. People often tell me that I am “in the right place at the right time.” But I obviously don’t post “failed” shoots. And not only that, I also spend a great deal of time planning my shots in order to make my chances of success as high as possible.
Some of you may be thinking: “What is this guy talking about? I just go out and shoot and see what I come up with”. Everyone is free to do whatever they want, of course, but I’d like to discuss how to help you find optimal conditions.
I use a bunch of tools for planning my shots. Here they are:
WeatherPro Smartphone App
When planning perfect conditions for your landscape shots, a lot of it depends on the weather. To accurately monitor the weather, I use the WeatherPro app. Keep in mind that the basic version predicts the weather every 4 hours. The Premium version predicts it for every hour and costs $9 per year. Knowing the weather every hour is important, especially during mornings and evenings as you want to see what kind of sunrise or sunset you will get. The WeatherPro app is often accurate in its predictions.
Here are some things to look for in the app:
Cloud Cover: If you want an epic burning sunset you will need clouds. It’s best to have a kind of thick cloud layer with a big opening on the horizon where the sun will come underneath to cast its light on the clouds during sunset.
Fog and Mist: The app often predicts fog and mist (which mostly happens during mornings). Also look for high humidity.
Wind Direction and Wind Speed: If I want to shoot at a lake or canals (in the Netherlands we have lots of canals) I want to see some reflections. It’s important for me to have a wind speed of lower than 20 km/h (~12.5mph) to get decent reflections with a long exposure shot. Wind direction is also important for long exposure shots, as the wind coming towards or from behind gives a vortex effect in your shot, while wind from the side gives you a completely different effect as your clouds will move sideways in your shot.
Here’s an example of ‘the vortex effect’:
And here’s an example of the sideways effect:
These shots were both planned beforehand, knowing wind speed, wind direction, and cloud cover.
Depending on what country you are in, some countries have very detailed real-time radars. Fog and visibility radars are super useful. When I am going to shoot a sunrise and fog is predicted, you want to be sure that there is actually fog when you wake up (so that you don’t get up at 4 AM for nothing). What I then do is check the visibility radar in my country (we have one in the Netherlands). I can see the actual live visibility on this radar for every place in the country. If the visibility is low (lower than like 3 km) I know that there is fog and that it’s time to get moving. You’ll need to find radar data for whatever country and location you’re in.
You can basically use Photopills for everything else you need. The Photopills website also offers countless of reading and video material to occupy you for weeks. You can plan the position of the sun, moon, Milky Way, stars, star trails, moon phase, sunset times, moonset times, everything.
The augmented reality function is the one I use most. With this, you can hold your smartphone in front of you and use the camera of the phone and see all kinds of info in real time. This way you can plan a sunset/sunrise or moonset/moon rise at a certain scene by holding your camera and checking what date/time the sun or moon will be at an exact location.
You can also plan Milky Way shots with this. By going to a location during the day, you can see how the stars align at different times during the night. These are all tricks to carefully plan aligned sun/moon/Milky Way shots.
Here are some handy functions to be aware of:
See exact daily times of sunset, sunrise, blue hour, twilight etc
See exact locations and elevations from the sun/moon/Milky Way
Moon calendar for moon phases. A new moon is important for Milky Way shots
Augmented reality function to see things in real time
Star trails calculator for different exposure times
Much more. I honestly don’t even know all of the functions myself.
Sun and Moon Calculators
I use suncalc.org and mooncalc.org. Similar to Photopills and free. These are just websites that quickly let you check the sun/moon position on certain dates. Quite helpful if you don’t have the app and just quickly want to plan a moon/sun shot.
What a lot of people do not realize is that tons of places have live webcams. Webcams are extremely useful to check the weather on location. Even traffic cams can be used. When you want to visit a location in your own country, check the weather on a webcam and see how the weather looks right there and then. You’ll be amazed how many places actually have webcams. Just type ‘THE PLACE NAME + webcam’ into Google!
When you’re doing landscape photography, you’ll start to know the weather (especially in your own country) after a while. For example, great colorful sunsets usually appear when there are lots of clouds in the sky with a big opening at the horizon right before sunset.
Another thing when planning shots of certain buildings is to just call them and verify that there’s no construction. I often hear people wanting to take that iconic shot of a beautiful church or cathedral, only to find out that the whole thing is under construction when they arrive. It only takes a phone call to quickly ask, especially if you have to drive a bunch of hours to get to the location.
I plan most of my shots with a combination of the things mentioned in this article. These are the tools I personally use. Regarding smartphone apps and websites: there are obviously alternatives to the things I use, and everyone has their own preferences.
Tons of shots in my personal portfolio were simply planned with the above tools. Of course, when you go out to shoot a lot you occasionally get some ‘luck’ and find some epic conditions. But more often than not, a shoot still fails.
I hope you found this information and inspiration useful. Good luck!
About the author: Albert Dros is a 31-year-old award-winning Dutch photographer. His work has been published by some of the world’s biggest media channels, including TIME, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and National Geographic. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here.
Nevada Law and the Nevada Administrative code have a simple definition of when you need to have a permit to shoot photos in their parks. It is based entirely on whether or not the pictures will be sold.
Nonetheless, the policy of the Parks division is that anyone shooting pictures of a model is assumed to be doing “commercial photography” even when they have evidence to the contrary. After a lengthy discussion with both a park and the Deputy Administrator of the Parks Division, they have confirmed this interpretation. And it’s worse than just getting a permit; there is a burdensome procedure you have to go through before the shoot, even if it’s just two people, and as a permittee, you are highly restricted in where you can shoot.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Suppose there are two fellows, Bradley and Randy, who are in a State Park in Nevada.
Bradley is an internationally-known commercial photographer. He has been engaged by a top ten advertising company to produce photos for use by a foreign luxury car maker. Their idea is to take pictures of iconic American landscapes and Photoshop in their autos to make their product feel more “American.” Bradley is being paid a retainer of $50,000 to take the pictures, plus will get an additional $20,000 each for every one they use in their ads. He and his camera wander around all over the various State Parks in Nevada for two months, shooting away.
Randy made a bunch of money in the tech industry. He has used it to buy a Nikon D810 and a really big lens. He also has used that money to attract a high maintenance girlfriend, Suzy. Suzy is “a model” — she will tell anyone who listens because she graduated from Barbizon and got a job once handing out flyers at a local liquor store. In fact, since she got paid for that, she proudly tells that same anyone that she is a “professional model.” While driving around in the park, Randy has Suzy get out of the Maybach once in a while and takes her picture. He loves the power he feels from directing her, and she loves to have her picture taken. When they get home you just know that Suzy will proudly plaster those pictures all over her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Because, well, that’s what “professional models” do.
Do either of them need a permit for “commercial photography” in the Parks? Well, let’s see if we can figure it out…
The law and regulations tell us:
‘Commercial photography’ means photography engaged in for financial gain, including, without limitation, the sale of a photographic image as a product or for use in advertising, motion pictures, portraits, television productions or portfolios and the archiving of an image by a person who uses photographic skills, equipment or resources to provide a photographic product for sale. [Source: NAC 407.0071, emphasis added.]
Well, Bradley is the big-time commercial photographer who is shooting pictures to sell for advertising and getting big bucks for it, so he needs a permit. Right?
Not so fast. The Nevada Park system has a set of rules, one of which states:
The division will not charge individual photographers that are taking pictures privately or commercially, if they are alone without props or models. Commercial photography engaged in by one person does not require a permit or any additional fees.
So Bradley is off the hook. He can keep all that hard earned money and shoot freely without restriction. But what about Randy?
Randy has a problem. His girlfriend is “a model.” Worse, she thinks she is a “professional model” and so does the Park system. Neither one of them knows what “professional model” means, but never mind that. Randy is there with Suzy, so he needs a “commercial photography” permit. That his pictures are only destined for social media, not for sale or for advertising, means nothing. That he has no chance of ever being a professional photographer doesn’t matter. That he has never made a dime from selling pictures and never will don’t matter. That what he is doing does not meet the definition in the law for “commercial photography” doesn’t matter. He is there with Suzy, taking pictures of Suzy, and so he needs a permit.
For Randy to take pictures of Suzy, all he has to do is get $300,000 in liability insurance policy, make sure the Park is a “named insured”, file an application with a $50 fee, do a survey of the Park without Suzy in the car, and then make an appointment with a park ranger, get the places he wants to take pictures of her approved, and he is all set to tour the park with Suzy the next day.
Now, he still can’t take pictures of her in places he hasn’t had approved. If they drive by a group of tourists at an especially appealing location that Randy missed during his survey, and all those tourists are taking selfies and pictures of each other, Randy can’t stop the car and take a picture of Suzy no matter how much she whines.
And if he happens to be in the Park after 5:00 PM, which is very likely because Suzy really is not a morning person, he can’t take pictures of her either, because that’s what the rules say if you have a permit. Never mind that all the other tourists can happily snap away until sundown — Randy can’t.
All the above is taken from the statute, the Nevada Administrative Code (NAC) and the Rules that the Park system publishes to describe how it administers the law and the Code. It might, at this point, be worthwhile to point out that the regulations in the Code, and the Rules which implement them, are under the authority of the Administrator, whose charter to issue those regulations and rules is also contained in the statute. In this case, the relevant statute says:
Any regulations relating to the conduct of persons within the park or recreational facilities must:
(a) Be directed toward one or both of the following:
(1) Prevention of damage to or misuse of the facility.
(2) Promotion of the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the people of this State through the preservation and use of the facility.
It appears that, in the wisdom of the Nevada Park System, all the things Randy has to do, in bold above, are for the purpose of helping him find inspiration and enjoyment in taking his pictures of Suzy. Or perhaps, imposing those requirements on Randy, but not on any of the other thousands of tourists who use the park, take pictures of each other in the park, but don’t happen to have a girlfriend who is “a model” somehow protects all those other tourists.
Author’s note: A copy of this article has been sent to the management of the Nevada Parks division to confirm accuracy, but they have made no response.
About the author: Roger Talley is a former professional fashion photographer who has been retired for over a decade now. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Talley has authored a book on modeling: The Professional’s Guide to Modeling. You can find more of his work on his website and portfolio.
How to Do Splashes in Product Photos Using Speedlights
Adding a splash can add impact to product photos that involve liquid. Here’s a 9-minute video in which photographer Dustin Dolby of workphlo shows how you can capture splashes with speedlights.
With your glass set up on plexiglass to achieve a perfect reflection, utilizing the tips in his previous tutorial about photographing glass to achieve proper lighting, try putting a couple of diffusers in front of the speedlight to achieve a silky look.
This will remove the harsh edges around the glass you may be experiencing. Here’s the difference it makes:
With a second speedlight set up from the side, on the lowest power possible, it highlights the edges of the garnish on the glass. The low power means a shorter flash duration, which is essential for freezing the water later on.
By capturing initial exposures like this, and perfecting the light before adding the splashes, you’re able to create compositions between a splash and your “blank canvas” frame. For example, should you accidentally cast a shadow over the frame, you can mask this out of the background easily.
Another great benefit of this is that you can comp out the dirty plexiglass, which will inevitably be covered in splashes from dropping an ice cube into the glass again and again.
The dramatic background is created by using curves later, bringing in the attractive gradient instead of leaving the high-key background. Check out the full video above to see exactly how to do this for yourself.
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The video, released by scientists at UW–Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC), was captured by the GOES-16, one of the world’s most advanced weather satellites.
The satellite photographed the Earth once every five minutes during the eclipse, and the resulting timelapse video shows the shadow of the moon crossing the United States from west to east.
But that’s not all. GOES-16 has another camera system on board that can capture single-channel, near-infrared images that detect the presence of lightning. Using this camera, the satellite also created a timelapse video showing the moon’s shadow passing through severe weather formations filled with flashes of lightning.
“The first instrument of its kind in geostationary orbit, GLM observes total lightning (both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground), and offers a constant vigil for lightning flashes day and night across the Western Hemisphere,” NOAASatellites writes. “Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening and could become more dangerous.”
An Ultimate Guide to Every B&W ISO 400 35mm Film on the Market
I’m photographer Andrew Branch, and this is my 400 speed, 35mm black-and-white film guide. In this guide, I will be comparing every 400 ISO black and white film which is actively being produced and readily available to the U.S. market, that I know about.
Before we get into it, you should know that I am a film enthusiast, but a novice in every sense of the word. Experienced film shooters will likely find my film review a bit naive and maybe insufficient. That’s fine, I’m not doing this for them. I’m making this guide because I haven’t found anything else out there that does this sort of in-depth comparison, which includes the new films released in 2017. The moment a more seasoned film expert decides to make a better one of these, I will gladly point people to her or his guide. But in the meantime, I’ll do the best I can and appreciate would patience from those who are more experienced.
You should also know that this will not be a short guide. We’ll proceed like this. I’ll first explain how I conducted the testing for this guide, as transparently as possible. Next, I’m going to talk about the history and characteristics of each one of these emulsions. If you’re going to skip a section, this might be a good candidate, although, some may find this fascinating. After that, we’ll get to the most important section, and that is the blind testing to help you and I figure out what type of film we find most appealing. Finally, I’ll give you my own analysis, for those who are interested.
Now, you should know that the way any of these films look, both grain, contrast, sharpness, tonality, etc can all be drastically affected by your choice of developer, your development technique, and your scanning technique. The good news there is that, within reason, you can probably make most any film, developer, scanning, and post processing combination get you results you’re very pleased with if you experiment long enough. And any experienced film photographer would tell you that that’s exactly what you should do.
Pick a film and a developer that works for your budget and workflow, and start experimenting with developers, development times and methods. But, we all need a place to start. I’m hoping this guide will give you a point of departure. If it sparks your interest in a specific film or introduces you to a film you’ve never tried but decide you’d like to try, to me that makes the whole thing worth it.
So let’s talk about how I did this. I wanted to start with four different photos that were taken in exactly the same conditions for each film. To do that I setup a tripod in the center of my living room and setup four different scenes to shoot. One shot through the window at a tree, a fence and a mountain on a bright, cloudless, summer day, one shot at a naturally lit metal art that I proudly welded myself, and then two portraits, one with some nice rim lighting against a white backdrop and the other against the dark interior of my home. As I progressed through each film I shot each scene with each film.
So I’ve given a lot of disclaimers so far, and I want to add yet one more, but this is probably the most important disclaimer. Except in the case of one film (which we’ll get to later), I used the same developer: Kodak HC 110.
For development times I stuck with times recommended in the Massive Dev Chart. Now, plenty of people will criticize my choice of developer and/or, the Massive Dev Chart. But for the purposes of this guide, we have to start somewhere, and testing each of these emulsions with even several of the more popular developers would be completely unrealistic. I spent a lot of time considering this and ultimately decided on Kodak HC 110 for a lot of reasons. HC 110 has been around forever and is known for being reliable and being able to produce predictable results.
In fact, this is the one Ansel Adams himself recommended for those learning the zone system. It has a long shelf life and it’s cheap to use as one-shot. It’s not great for pushing, but we’re not doing any of that for this test. At box speeds, I feel like it’s a strong choice for most of these films. For many of these films, people will argue that other developers would be better to start out with. I’m not disagreeing with that, but again, I had to start somewhere and I certainly can’t test all of them.
Additionally, several of the films I’m going to cover, people will claim are not “true 400-speed film.” People will say “the box says ISO 400, but everyone knows it works better when exposed with at 200 exposure index or blah blah blah. Look, that may be true of several of these films. However, if the box says it’s a 400-speed film, we’re going to treat it like a 400-speed film. Any film can be developed at a different ASA to yield different results. Just because you may like Foma developed at 200, for instance, doesn’t mean it’s invalid to develop it at the marketed box speed of 400. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
For scanning, I used the Epson V800 with the same settings for each scan. It’s important to note that a scanner acts like an on board image processor in a digital camera and will absolutely have an effect on the look of a film. Again, there’s just no way we can test a wider set of options. I think you’ll find that my scan probably adds a bit more contrast than what you’d get if we’d just have enlarged these. And I think that’s important to note.
Phew! That was a lot of disclaimers. Maybe I should have had you sign a waiver. But with the fine print out of the way, let’s start looking at the history and characteristics of these films.
Film History and Characteristics
We’ll start with the cheaper or what I would call the budget films. These are films typically used by students or the budget conscious photographer. And, weighing in at a pretty nine cents per frame (again, in USD), the cheapest of all of the films is Ultrafine Xtreme 400. I couldn’t find a lot of information on the history of this film. Though it is labeled as being produced in Europe, and many believe it to be another film simply rebranded, I can’t find any hard evidence to substantiate that claim.
It seems safe to assume that Harmon (maker of Kentmere and Ilford films) does the coating/finishing of this film, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this emulsion is simply Kentmere or HP5 as many claim. Regardless, this film, to me, is surprisingly high quality for one so cheap. It has low contrast with good latitude (define latitude), and I’d say a medium to fine grain. It dries flat and is great for scanning.
Next up is Fomapan, which, is also Arista EDU Ultra, which, is also HOLGA. It’s all the same emulsion. Fomapan 400 has been produced for by Foma, Czech company, for almost a hundred years. It is Europe’s popular budget-friendly brand. I’ve found that prices vary between its various brands, so I’ll usually watch and compare these prices and get the version which happens to be the cheapest at any given time.
Currently, Foma can be purchased in the states at the cost of 11 cents per frame. Fomapan’s grain is quite fine for an ISO400 traditional cubic grained emulsion. I’d call it a medium to strong contrast film which renders a bit on the soft side, with a bit more halation than, say, Kentmere. This halation, or retro film glow, is probably why the HOLGA version of this film exists, as this is usually seen as a virtue in the toy camera market. Unfortunately, it also scratches easily and some say becomes brittle after development. But it dries extremely flat and is super easy to scan.
Kentmere is owned by a Harman, which also creates the Ilford films. Kentmere represents Harman’s budget or student film and costs 11 cents per frame. Kentmere is a plastic-based film known for being soft and it scratches easily as a result. It dries fairly flat, though as a bit more bounce to it than Ultrafine Xtreme and Fomapan. It has very fine grain. It is sharp, medium contrast, but its grain tends to be clumpy and the film, in general, can yield unpredictable results. It definitely has lower quality standards than it’s Ilford cousins.
The next two films are what I would consider mid-range films preferred by documentary style photographers, where high quality and predictable results are important, but going through rolls and rolls of it necessitates keeping the price point low.
Like Kentmere, Ilford HP5+ is a product of the Harman technology company. It is a lower contrast film. It has good shadow detail and well-separated mid-tones with sharp grain. Although the contrast is low, there is a great deal of latitude in this film, which makes it great for pushing or flavoring the curves and contrast to taste, after scanning. Selling for about 14 cents per frame, currently, it might be less sharp than some films, but it will provide predictable and reproducible results. Like Kentmere, there is a bit more bounce to this film after drying. As a side note, I’ve found HP5+ fans to be some of the most loyal and enthusiastic in the community, more so, than perhaps, any of the other films that I’m talking about.
Next, we’ll talk about the oldest and arguably the most beloved black and white film, Kodak Tri-X. Introduced in 1940, to this day, Tri-X remains the world’s best-selling black and white film. When photographers combined its high-speed with the small 35mm form factor, it revolutionized photojournalism. It was used by most photojournalists for over three decades.
Tri-X has undergone a number of minor engineering changes during its long history. The modern version has smaller grain than the original. It’s known for its unique grain characteristics. It is the reason that many prefer film to digital. It’s also a cost-effective film, at 14 cents a frame. Tri-X is also known for its deep contrast. It’s a forgiving film, it’s accurate, consistent, has good tonal range, and scans well and sharp. Unfortunately, when Tri-X dries, it becomes difficult to scan, unless using glass film holders, owing to the lateral, rather than length-wise, curling.
With Agfa APX we need to emphasize that this is New Emulsion, which is not to be confused with the old emulsion which was much-loved by a loyal group of photographers until Agfa officially closed its doors in 2014. A European company, Lupus, purchased the trademark, but not the technology. With the name Agfa APX only for their film, I couldn’t figure out where their film technology came from. This film is considered inferior and cheaper than the original emulsion. It is known for being milky, faded, or having low contrast tonally. It does retain highlights well, but it’s also known for being unforgiving if exposure or development times are not nailed. This film is also a bit more pricey in the U.S. at 19 cents a frame. One redeeming quality of this film is how flat it dries. In my testing, it’s probably the flattest of all the emulsions.
Whereas Lupus may have inherited the Agfa APX name, Rollei inherited the technology. Most agree that Rollei RPX is the successor of the old Agfa APX. Rollei RPX is known for its high dynamic range and holding details in the shadow. It is fine grained and shows some high contrast. Allegedly, this film was designed to be pushed. While it was introduced as a low-cost film eight years ago or so, it currently sells at more on the expensive end at 18 cents per frame, in the US. Rollei RPX is a bit more challenging to scan than some, as it does have some significant curling after drying.
Rollei Retro 400S is the successor of Agfa Gevaert Aviphot which is an aerial film. It is considered an excellent fine art film and is characterized by high-contrast and tightly packed grain. With a bright red anti-halation layer (which you’ll see rinse away in development) it has extended infrared sensitivity, so you’ll see increased sensitivity to foliage, greenery, as well as red tones. The IR sensitivity enables penetration of haze in landscape photography. This film is unique among the other film types we’re looking at in that it’s a transparent film. The drawback here is that flaws and dust will appear much more easily in scanning. And speaking of scanning, this film has amongst the worst curling, making it rather difficult to work with. It’s also on the expensive end, at a current price of .25 cents per frame in the US.
The next two films we’ll be discussing are exciting to me since they are both new films. With the last few decades seeing film after film company shutters its windows, it really is encouraging to see two new films come out in the same year.
First up, we have the Bergger Pancromatic 400. It incorporates a dual emulsion design that gives it some of the tonality seen in some finer grain emulsions, but with a lot more forgiving results, which also allow for a wide range of pulling or pushing. Bergger claims this film will work well with virtually any developer. But, as a new black and white film, developed for a modern era, it has a flat profile which makes it a great choice for custom curves at scan time or in your favorite processor. This is an affordable film, at .14 cents per frame, in the US. About the only negative thing you can say about this new emulsion is that it dries with that same frustrating bowing you get from Tri-X.
This next film was also newly released in 2017 by a name familiar in the film resurgence movement of the digital age Bellamy Hunt, otherwise known as the Japan Camera Hunter. Bellamy was able to reproduce this film from an old discontinued surveillance film technology, which was originally made by AGFA. Having it put back into production, he has named it StreetPan 400. Streetpan is a flexible and forgiving, with higher than usual contrast. Similar to Rollei 400s Retro, it has some sensitivities to infrared and thus has good haze and fog penetration. The emulsion is coated onto a transparent polyester base. It is a thin emulsion and it dries flat. The one drawback of this film is its price in the US, weighing in at a whopping .27 cents per frame.
We’ll conclude with two films which are called T-grain films. Up until this point, we’ve been talking about classic or cubic grain structure. But a more modern development in film photography has been the t-grain emulsions. Without getting very technical (as I’m already outside of my comfort zone in this guide without delving into the science) I’ll just say that T-grain film is uniform in its grain characteristics. It allows for grain which is more predictable, more even, and also a lot less obvious than the classic or cubic grains of the other films we’ve been discussing, so far. T-grain is often compared to digital. It’s preferred by those who don’t like the grainy characteristics of most film. T-grain films are also more sensitive to variations in developer temperature, time, dilution, agitation etc. They are going to be less forgiving than classic films.
The first t-grain film we’ll discuss is Kodak T-MAX and Lady Gray (which is the same film). This film is very linear, tonally. It has very fine grain. The T-grain emulsion, as I mentioned, high sharpness and very high-edged detail. T-MAX is a great choice if you don’t like grain. The T-MAX base has a pink tint to it. Like Rollei Retro, T-MAX is also extremely curly upon drying but is also currently fairly affordable at .15 per frame.
Ilford Delta 400 is very comparable to T-MAX. And, while many will say, it’s not technically a t-grain like T-MAX, it uses a similar technology, and most just group them together as t-grain emulsions anyway. Like T-MAX, it is characterized by high sharpness, T-grain characteristics, wide latitude, linear tonality with not much contrast. The results you’ll get with Delta 400 are absolutely predictability but it also commands a higher price at .21 cents per frame. Delta is also a joy to scan, drying as flat as Ultrafine Xtreme and AGFA APX.
Finally, we have a bit of a black sheep in the 400 speed, black and white film comparison. And that is another Ilford film, the XP2 Super. XP2 is unique from all the rest in that it is not developed with black and white development processes, but rather, C-41, or color development chemicals and process.
Now, if you don’t ever plan to develop your own films, this will matter to you not at all. I’m not even sure the cost will be different if you take this to your local developer. However, if you do your own development, it matters. C-41 process is a bit more complicated than black and white. Black and white processing can be a lot more forgiving, with temperatures more of guidelines rather than die-hard rules. But with C-41 chemical temperatures matter a lot more and so does precision. Any miscalculation in your chemical measurements can screw things up a lot faster than with black and white. Now I don’t want to scare you away, I mean, I do both types of development, and if I can do it, trust me, you can do it.
But if you’re a beginner to film processing, I’d absolutely recommend starting with any of the films I’ve mentioned previously and not this one, as you’ll have an easier time of it. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about this film.
XP was released by Ilford in 1980 but has since progressed through a number of improvements. Like most Ilford films, Kodak had a competing product in BW400CN. In 2014 Kodak announced the discontinuation of BW400CN, which means that Ilford XP2 Super is the only black & white film on the market that can be developed using the C-41 process.
As, technically, a color (or chromogenic film), XP2 has what many consider an extremely strong advantage over all other traditional black and white films as it allows you to use Digital ICE during scanning.
Digital ICE is a feature in scanning software which can automatically remove dust and scratches because they have strongly contrasting infrared signatures. It becomes fairly easy for products like Silver Fast to remove a lot of this junk with one click. But since all other black and white films produce silver halides during the development, there is no infrared information, and thus, no Digital ICE. But XP2 Super does, giving it a distinct advantage for those who wish to make use of this feature when scanning. Additionally, XP2 has a similar exposure latitude to color negative film, so it can be exposed with an exposure index from ISO 50 to 800 on a single roll and be developed in traditional C-41 processing. This film is extremely sharp and is very smooth, tonally. Its grain is extremely subtle.
Now I know you’re probably anxious to dive into the actual photos. But first I’d love to share with you a tool I built to help myself to determine which film I want to commit to, long term, for myself. If this can also help you, then I’m happy to share it.
This spreadsheet is based on the split 10 decision-making process, though simplified a bit and customized to fit, specifically, to our blind film test.
If you’d like to use this template, all you need to do is go to this URL and then make a copy of it. Since this version is read-only, you won’t be able to make changes to it. To make your own copy, you can do this by downloading it as an Excel spreadsheet, if you’d prefer to work on your desktop, or go to “File > Make a copy” to create an editable version you can work with in your own Google Drive.
Once you’ve got a copy that you can edit, the first step is to rate your priorities when it comes to film in this second row here. Now keep in mind, I built this for myself and factors I consider when evaluating these films. You may have your own criteria and, as such, you may need to do some refactoring of this spreadsheet to get it to reflect this. But showing you to change the business rules on this spreadsheet is beyond the scope of this tutorial, so you’re on your own if you choose to go that route.
But assuming you’re ok with my own set of criteria, what you’re going to want to do first is to go through each of these criteria and rate how important each one is to you personally on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being not important at all and 5 being extremely important.
Once you’ve prioritized the various factors, the next step will be the actual blind test. To proceed with the test you can either follow along with the video, as I show you the result of the each of the 13 films in each of the scenes. Or you can download the contact sheets here and evaluate them at your leisure.
Analysis and Conclusions
Phew! That was a lot of work. So with the blind test out of the way, now comes the big reveal. Here are the film names associated to their letters:
A Ilford XP2 Super B Foma C Kentmere 400 D JCH StreetPan 400 E Kodak Tri-X 400 F Bergger Pancro 400 G AGFA APX 400 H Rollei Retro 400S I Ilford HP5+ J Kodak T-MAX 400 K Ilford Delta 400 Pro L Ultrafine Xtreme 400 M Rollei RPX 400
For those of you who used your own methods to evaluate these films, you’re done. Please let me know in the comments what your results were. I’m really curious to hear if they met your expectations or not and what you learned from this experiment.
For those who are using my spreadsheet, we do have a bit more work to do. First off, the way to reveal the actual names of the films is to expand column B (the easiest way to do this is to right click, go to “Resize column” and enter 160 pixels). After that, we need to complete the evaluation for the more empirical factors of price, scanability, scratch sensitivity, and infrared sensitivity.
For most of these numbers, you may be able to just use mine. Here is another link to a second version of this read-only spreadsheet. This one has my results, and you are welcome to copy numbers from the sections here which apply.
When it comes to price, if you live in US and it’s still 2017 you could probably just trust my numbers. If you don’t, what you’ll want to do is figure out the price per frame, as some of these films come in 24 frames in a roll and others 36. Here are the prices per frame in the US as of the time of me filming this video:
Next, you may just want to use my numbers here for scannability. These are based on how flat these films were able to lie for me when I scanned them.
Next, I have scratch resistance. After everything else, I ran a quick, not super scientific test to see how well these films hold up to being scratched with this plastic fork like object. After scratching I scanned them again and just studied how well these films held up against this scratching and rated them as best I could.
Finally, for infrared, I put 1s on everything but the three films which are particularly sensitive to infrared, and then on BW > c41, obviously you’re going to either have 12 1s and 1 5, or 12 5s and 1 1.
And here are my results. These results are super surprising to me. For those who watched my first version of this test, these results are extremely different. Part of the reason for this is that this time, I am taking into account things like scannability and price into the equation. But even more than that, I just think I had a better process of development and scanning this time.
At any rate, I am really amazed that the results, at least for me, aside from Ilford Delta, point to several films working best for me that I just never would have chosen without conducting these tests. As you may have picked up in my review of each film earlier on, I consider AGFA APX, Foma, and Ultrafine to be inferior films, for various reasons. And yet, here they are topping my personal charts next to Delta. I guess the good news here is that Ultrafine is extremely cheap. As I start shooting more seriously with this film, though, time will tell if it’s going to provide consistent and reliable results and if it provides my blind test results seem to think it has.
So what were your results? Does this test change anything for you? Has it sparked your interest in a new film? I’d love to hear about it in the comments?
Also, what can I improve in these tests? What would you like to see me change or do differently in the next one? I definitely have plans to do more of these, and I would love to hear what can make them better.
As hopefully is evident, these tests represent a lot of work and also some expense. I truly hope you found it valuable and that you’ll subscribe and support what we’re doing on our YouTube channel.
About the author: Andrew Branch and his wife Denae are a husband and wife photography team. You can find more of their work on their YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
Photographer Turns Sick and Disabled Kids into Justice League Superheroes
Photographer Josh Rossi spent $1,500 last year turning his 3-year-old daughter into Wonder Woman, and the photo series went viral. This year, he did another passion project for a great cause: he photographed kids with diseases and disabilities as Justice League superheroes.
“The whole idea was to take the things that are weaknesses for the kids such as cancer and other diseases and turn them into strengths,” Rossi tells PetaPixel. “I worked with 6 kids under the age of 8 and completed a movie poster style image for each of them.”
The custom replica costumes created for each of the kids were valued at over $10,000, but each one was donated for this good cause. Once the photos were planned, shot, and edited, Rossi created giant framed prints and surprised each child on camera.
“It was amazing seeing the excitement on their faces!” Rossi says. Here are each of the kids, their superhero portraits, and the video of them receiving the print:
Kayden Kinckle as Cyborg
Kayden is a 5-year-old who was born with omphalocele, which caused his internal organs to grow outside his navel. To save his life, doctors had to amputate both of his legs.
Sofie Loftus as Wonder Woman
Sofie is a 3-year-old fighting a rare cancer of the connective tissues called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.
Teagan Pettit as Superman
Teagan was born with only half a heart, a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. He has had 3 open heart surgeries and several additional ones “to tune him up.” He wears oxygen at night, takes a lot of medication, and only recently had his feeding tube removed.
Mataese Manuma as Aquaman
Mataese is a 2-year-old with a rare form of cancer called acute megakaryoblastic leukemia.
Zaiden Stolrow as The Flash
Zaiden is a 7-year-old with severe ADHD.
Simon Fullmer as Batman
Simon is a 5-year-old with a rare form of nerve cancer called neuroblastoma.
“The kids that my team and I chose have been through hell and back and have real superhuman strength!” Rossi writes. “It is exactly their weaknesses that make them strong! Together they form The Justice League!”
This is the Best Photo Ever Shot of a Star Other Than Our Sun
Astronomers using the ESO Very Large Telescope have created the most detailed photo ever of a star other than our own Sun. The subject of the photo is the supergiant Antares, visible to the unaided eye in the constellation Scorpius.
“To the unaided eye the famous, bright star Antares shines with a strong red tint in the heart of the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion),” the ESO writes. “It is a huge and comparatively cool red supergiant star in the late stages of its life, on the way to becoming a supernova.”
Antares has 12 times the mass of the Sun and a diameter 700 times larger. Here’s an artist rendering of what the star might actually look like:
The team of astronomers was led by Keiichi Ohnaka of Chile’s Universidad Católica del Norte. They used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), which can combine light gathered from four different telescopes to create the equivalent view of a telescope with a 200-meter mirror. This setup allows scientists to see details that are currently impossible to capture with a single telescope.
The team’s findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature.
Camera on Balloon Captures the Total Solar Eclipse from Near Space
Self-proclaimed “armchair aeroscience geek” Liem Bahneman managed to capture the Great American Eclipse from an unusual and amazing perspective: he loaded cameras onto a high-altitude and shot what the total solar eclipse looks like from the edge of space. The 9-minute video above is what one camera recorded over Central Oregon.
Bahneman used a total of four cameras on his near space stratospheric balloon: three still cameras (including a Ricoh Theta 360) and a GoPro shooting video.
He launched the balloon shortly before totality pass over the state. As you’ll see in the video, the cameras were able to capture the shadow of the moon creeping across the land and plunging everything into darkness for minutes during totality. At around 5 and 7 minutes, you can hear the sounds of jets flying over the mountains below.
“This is the edited video, showing launch, the shadow of totality passing, and the last 40 seconds or is the last of the footage before the battery died,” Bahneman writes.