Vivian Maier

While I was focused on Henri Carter-Bresson and Ansel Adams, the new photography icon appeared. Finding Vivian Maier film tells the story of a nanny with the camera who quietly perfected her skill.

Of course, there are books published, articles written, who did what when why. She is the perfect example of the intersection of psychology or psychotherapy, and photography, and how two came together to make her what she become.

Apparently, she had high self-esteem, and her identity was an artist. She was true to the HCB / Leica concept of being a spy of reality, an observer of good and bad.

At the same time, she found the way to compensate her trauma and inferiority through taking pictures. Taking, not publishing. It provided her the necessary healing and means to handle her own battles with her shadow.

Art as therapy is not a new concept. Beautiful images invoke our Self-archetypal projections, while horrific images is our shadow work. The goal is to overcome the struggle with the unconscious and become a socially-accepted person. Vivian Maier did not accomplish that goal.

The beautiful image
The horrific image

Another way to see her work is to see her as a reporter at work, maybe she was dreaming to become one. She took newspapers to study the photographs published. It made her more significant in her own imagination.

The lesson of Vivian Maier discovery is, in my opinion, that there are many individuals who are talented as HCB or Ansel Adams, but not discovered. I don’t want to say that anybody or everybody is, but there are many, regardless of the education or lifestyle.

Visual communication with the reality, known as active imagination, or dhyana, or meditation, isn’t limited just to internal subject or external objects. There is no separation. It’s a human ability to make compositions, to frame visual input into archetypal structures. That’s why it’s a universal language.

Our education system has gaps, many gaps, actually. It focuses us on what is important for the politics of the day. Visual communication become the rejected knowledge. The study of it is limited to the study of its history.

Vivian Maier showed us the way to self-study and perfection of the craft of visual communication. Take newspapers, study photographs, think about what made it taken, selected, and published. Do own thinking. And then practice, make mistakes, practice again.

There is no need to formally own a profession in order to do what you want to do. You are free to do anything. Make your own world that serves your own needs. Be a master of your own life.

Kodak Portra 400 – Part 1

The classical fine grain color negative film, described by the Darkroom Photo Lab Index as “one of the most popular color negative films there is.”

The metering of the scene – overexposed for ISO 200 – using Lumu Power Light Meter app:

The color negative photo scan – using Canon M50 and Viltrox EF-EOS M2 0.71x Lens Mount Adapter:

The converted color version – using the latest FilmLab v2.2.1 using RA-4 Color Negative process:

The edited in C1 black and white result from the converted version:

So, the whole point of using any color negative is to make a color photograph as a result. I do like the color version, but in this particular case, the black and white version makes more sense for the result I wanted to achieve.

Color balance – Daylight. The best way to get the best results is to choose the outdoors.

Contrast – low. Good for soft skin tones.

ISO – high-speed. Good for making a higher shutter speed and avoid blurry images.

Grain structure – fine. Good exposure should provide a clean picture. I do get color noise in the shadows. Maybe 120 mm film provides better results than 35 mm.

Overexposed – fine. Based on the reviews, it should produce better results if shot at ISO 200.

Underexposed – average. Avoid, if possible.

Camera

Currently I have several cameras:

  • Canon 6D – full frame ILC big SLR
  • Canon M50 – cropped ILC small mirrorless 4k
  • Leica M2 – 35mm film ILC small rangefinder
  • Leica Q – full frame fixed lens medium mirrorless
  • Apple iPhone XR – very cropped fixed lens small mirrorless 4k (yes, I know)

My main workhorses for casual shooting are iPhone and Leica Q.

Street and Travel

After having Canon 6D (no 4k) for several years, I needed something lighter for travel, so I picked up Panasonic LX10 (4k), and later Canon M5 (no 4k). The mirrorless body benefits really were interesting, but Canon RP (4k) or Sony A7 (no 4k) was not appealing, so I went to Leica Q (no 4k). Switching to Leica M world was not easy using Leica Q, so I got Leica M2 to understand the philosophy of rangefinders and framelines. To leverage various manual M-mount lenses on a digital body I bought Canon M50 (4k). It also can be used with huge Canon EF and tiny Canon EF-M lenses.

Studio and Pro

The only professional camera I had was Canon 5D Mark III. The focusing system is a very advanced. It has a dual memory card storage for a backup copy. The thing is big which makes sense for huge Canon EF lenses.

Leica M Philosophy

Let’s take a look on Leica philosophy and how it is implemented in Leica M2 and Leica Q.

Erwin Put’s Leica Practicum gives a review of the theories of perception and photography in general, as well as a historical review of Leica photography. Also Thorsten von Overgaard gives a good overview of Leica history.

The interesting fact is that the Leica film rangefinder was almost universally adopted by professional photographers in the 1950s. In 2020, professionals use the latest Canon and Nikon digital DSLR or mirrorless cameras. The difference is huge, but the core basics are the same.

Leica philosophy is to preserve the basics from their traditional M cameras. Leica also is trying to compete by creating SL2 which is more like the other modern mirrorless cameras from Panasonic, Sony, Canon or Nikon. In that regard Leica Q/Q2 is an interesting approach that combines M and SL2 elements of design. In fact, it is possible to use Leica Q exactly as one would use Leica M film rangefinder.

The main principles of Leica philosophy:

  1. Making unobtrusive photography possible. The camera with the lens attached has to be compact. It should work just fine without a flash, using the existing light only.
  2. The dominant photographic style as the art photograph in the styles of pictorialism and surrealism. The camera should be a picture-machine: objective, mechanical, technological, giving the photographers new perspectives, strange compositions and in general the unexpected spontaneous look, surrealist approach of intuitive, even subconsciously made snapshots. The Vision approach in Leica photography is to focus (literally!) on the subjective, individualistic aspects of spontaneous picture-making or the ‘artless art of the snapshot’.  
  3. “It is not sociologists who provide insights, but the photographers who are observers at the very heart of their times”. To capture this heart the Leica photographer wanted to as invisible as could be. Cartier-Bresson would vey quickly raise the camera to his eye, take pictures in rapid succession and jump out of the scene. Many Leica adepts cover their Leica M body with black tape to disguise the fact they they are using a camera and the classic black-painted Leica cameras are in great demand on the collectors market. 
  4. The operation of the camera should be minimalistic and simplistic. The aperture and focus controls belong to a lens, the shutter speed and sensitivity controls belong to a body with a clear viewfinder. Point and shoot.
  5. The emotional attachment to the Leica camera is a universal phenomenon. The Dutch photographer Philip Mechanicus used a Leica and noted that he saw masculine and feminine traits in the camera. ‘He’ because of the functional appearance and ‘she’ because of the slimness, proportions and shades of the body. He called this feeling ‘technical eroticism’, and linked this emotion exclusively to the Leica camera. 

Right now Leica is making waves and experiencing a Renaissance. As Ken Rockwell noted, the taste of the modern casual photographers is spoiled by the cheap market from Japan and China, and the quality demands are balanced by the price to pay. The whole question had become a psychological inferiority complex problem:

“Men buy  LEICA, and especially the NOCTILUX, to establish dominance. Owning LEICA is tangible proof of a man’s superior vision, inimitable taste and superior level of accomplishment. LEICAs, instruments of the immortal, are a plaything for the talented. We own LEICA because it is who we are, not because we need to take pictures. LEICAs haven’t been about taking pictures since they went obsolete back in the 1960s. LEICA lenses cost what they do because they are well made and use very high grades of glass (for instance, you have to pay a lot for better homogeneity grades as LEICA does), but most of the price is paying for intangibles like bloodline and heritage. Oskar Barnack’s martyrdom isn’t free. LEICA is about the lifestyle, never the price.

While this Mitakon lens works on a LEICA camera, it doesn’t deserve to be mounted on a LEICA because it lacks bloodline and has no heritage, and certainly doesn’t confer any sort of prestige. It just takes pictures. If you have to worry about price, you should not be playing with LEICA. Sit down and let the big boys play if you can’t afford genuine LEICA lenses for your LEICA camera. The guys I know who own NOCTILUX own an average of three of them, not just one.”

This said, we have to remember that the primary reason we use photography gear is to take beautiful pictures. While it is okay to experiment, buy and sell, try new things, the whole point is not to get busy, or to be busy, or to get into debt, but to find the gear that works for you, a style that works for you, and start producing annual photobooks.

Digitizing Film

As I wrote before, usually the film is scanned into digital files, so I do not treat analog photography differently from digital.

There are many reasons to digitize film, and one is to unify the post-production workflow, including backup.

So far I discovered the following approaches to scanning:

  1. Let the photo lab to do it.
  2. Use a dedicated film scanning device.
  3. Scan at home using a scanner.
  4. Take a picture of the film using a digital camera.

Before I just asked the lab to provide me the scans, and they asked the question which resolution do I need. Since I was new to film photography and scanning, I asked which resolution is the most popular. The answer was a medium res, $10 for 36 frames. In two days I had an email with the link to download my scans. Each JPG file had 2205 × 1470 pixels and around 1 MB size. The quality was good, and I was happy.

After watching some YouTube videos, I found out that people prefer scanning at home, and use scanners or digital cameras to get high-res files. One point was really interesting – to get a RAW image of the film frame. The RAW image means much more information to play with to get the best results possible.

Since I had my Canon DSLRs already, I tried the lenses I have already. The image of the frame was too small. I used a set of cheap close-up filters to boost macro capability, but distortion was too great to fix it in post. Then I ordered cheap macro tubes, and it did not work either.

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

There are two versions of this lens: the new Art version, and the previous, non-Art version. I was looking for something cheap, hence non-Art. Both lenses have a special flat design to take pictures of the prints and film.

Negative Lab Pro forum has a whole showcase of DSLR film scanning setup. People are very creative in ensuring that the light source is bright and even, the focus is sharp, and the rig is stable. There is no right or wrong way to do it.

I use Capture One tethering to take a picture.

There is no good solution for film conversion inside of Capture One yet. People use Negative Lab Pro plugin for Adobe Lightroom Classic, that is expensive and requires Adobe Creative subscription.

My decision is to use Film Lab for Mac.

Film Lab converts negative RAW image into JPG or TIFF. The adjustments are basic, but auto settings work just fine. This is a really good alternative to Negative Lab Pro for Capture One users.

I keep RAW negatives (true Digital NeGatives DNG!) in Capture folder, and converted JPG/TIFF in Selects folder.

The next steps are identical to the normal digital images Post-Production.

Post-Production Workflow

The workflow ideally should be simple and stable, independent from various gear and software changes.

  1. Pre-Production
  2. Production
  3. Post-Production
  4. Publishing

Let’s talk about step 3, Post-Production.

Usually the film is scanned into digital files, so I do not treat analog photography differently from digital.

The digital camera always records the image in the RAW format, which is the Digital Negative analog of the film. Some cameras hide the RAW file and allow to get the processed JPG file instead.

My understanding is that the RAW file is what we are talking about here.

Task 3.1 Import Original Files

Usually people choose Adobe Lightroom Classic or Capture One software.

Adobe Lightroom Classic
https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-lightroom-classic.html

Capture One
https://www.captureone.com/en

Capture One offers Catalog or Sessions for the library function. I prefer Sessions. The copied files are saved in Capture folder.

Capture One Import Window

Adobe Lightroom Classic offers Catalog only in the Library module.

Adobe Lightroom Classic Import Window

Task 3.2 Backup Original Files

Making two backup copies in addition to the one that was imported.

Get Backup Pro
https://www.belightsoft.com/products/getbackup/

Get Backup Pro

I use two G Drives 4 TB each, PROD and BACKUP 1
https://shop.westerndigital.com/products/external-drives/g-technology-g-drive-usb#0G03594-1

Task 3.3 Select Images to Process – Culling

Both applications offer Contact Sheet View, which is how the analog photography editors looked at the film to decide which image to choose.

Magnum Contact Sheets
https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/magnum-contact-sheets/

Capture One in Sessions uses a special folder called Selects, and has menu items and a keyboard shortcut to move a file from Capture folder to Selects folder.

Capture One Contact Sheet View

Lightroom has a special flag called Pick and a keyboard shortcut to mark the file as Selected.

Adobe Lightroom Classic Contact Sheet View

Task 3.4 Process Selected Images

This step is the most complicated, and can be expanded to the infinity.

The main idea is that the photographer before taking a picture has a visualization of the end result in mind. The camera cannot capture it exactly, and therefore, the captured image needs adjustments to reflect the original visualization.

Usually a camera has a low dynamic range, problems with the white balance, gives flat looking images that need some crop.

The assumption is that all the things that can be done right in the camera itself are done in the camera. The post is not for making an image, just for the modest corrections.

Lightroom Classic has a whole marketplace of presets and plugins, Capture One not so much.

My favorite plugin is Nik Collection, which works with Lightroom and Capture One
https://nikcollection.dxo.com

One thing about Lightroom Classic – you do not need a subscription to process the image. The Library module still has access to the adjustment controls after the subscription is expired.

My preference is Capture One. It has that high end experience that Lightroom lacks.

Task 3.5 Export Processed Images

The export requirements are given by the client or publishing provider.

Instagram requirements – 1080 pixels
https://help.instagram.com/1631821640426723

Capture Pro has a built in Instagram optimized export recipe (preset). The exported files are saved in a separate Output folder.

Capture One Instagram Recipe

Lightroom has also some Export presets.

Adobe Lightroom Classic Export Presets

Task 3.6 Backup Processed and Exported Images

In this case not only files need to be copied, but also a Catalog backup needs to be done, because all the changes to the RAW file are preserved in the Catalog or Session file only.

Capture One Catalog allows to import Sessions, so all the adjustments can be saved as one backup. This is how the backup folder looks like after being created by Capture One or Lightroom Classic. Usually it takes less space than when you copy the entire catalog manually.

Capture One Catalog Backup
Adobe Lightroom Classic Catalog Backup

Conclusion

That’s the major steps that I would take for any film or digital photography. The mindset and concepts should be the same regardless of the gear or software. The idea of the workflow is to stop thinking about the post-production steps, but rather free yourself to focus on what matters – the image itself.