Fine Art Black and White photography
I started my photography with a film camera, long times ago. As the most of us in that generation did, I grab the 35mm film camera to start up, but soon I realized the print quality of the 35mm film does not meet my demand. I upgraded to medium format cameras, Hassy and Rollei, then explored 4X5 large format and stuck there until the photography changed fundamentally to DIGITAL.
I was and still am an image quality driven guy, not a decisive moment inspired one. The best quality and the most satisfying photo for me came from 4X5 Tachihara and Tri-X ISO 320 film. The deeply toned grayscale mixed with super high resolution of 4X5 film delivers beautiful tonal separation and vividness for any BW image when carefully processed with Agfa Rodinal or Kodak HC-110.
I took 100% of my artwork in BW film as a typical 4X5 fine art photographer. For landscape using the zone system, I developed each film in a different time, usually N-1 setting which I exposed the Tri-X film at ISO 160 instead of ISO 320 and develop 15% less time in Rodinal. That gave the most satisfactory result for printing on grade 3 or 2 papers.
I am not sure how the story goes on the other fine art photographers, but sure they have switched to digital camera a long time ago. Once get into digital photography, everything was shuffled for me. I struggled to build up a new workflow in digital from the scratch and meandered many unpaved roads to find a new way hopelessly. But at the end, I found myself returning in the old school everytime, BW fine art photography. It is not returning to 4X5 film since I moved too far away to return to film. It is reproducing 4X5 film look and large format expression with latest photo technology, digital camera & photoshop.
4X5 landscape in digital photography
I drive my digital photo to rebuild 4X5 BW film look consciously and sometimes unconsciously. I am not fully satisfied with my digital BW photo yet, therefore will not stop new experiments soon, but now I can produce ample tonal separation and delicate expression as of Tri-X emulsion with digital raw files.
A couple of clicks in Photoshop wouldn’t mimic Tri-X look at all. I tried many Actions in PS, some are imported and some are own made, but it is inevitable to tweak the individual raw files with great care to make a good one so not any Action is turned as a single solution. I separate layers into 2 at least, one for deeper grey for zone 2 & 3 and the other for finer and softer rendering for zone 4 and up. Or split them into 3, the low, medium and high zone for the delicate balance of tonal separations.
Optical details = lens resolution X imager area
A high-resolution digital file from the full-frame sensor is not the same as low-resolution 4X5 film scan even if we matched the total number of the pixels. It is the same argument, saying the 40MB mobile phone photo is the same as 40MB full-frame camera photo which is far away from reality. The key point is the total amount of pixels regardless of pixel size should be filled with meaningful optical details.
Optical detail is the product of ‘lens resolution’ by ‘image area’. It means to increase optical details twice, either need to double the lens resolution or double the sensor area. As you know, the prior fact, lens resolution is almost reached to the limitation in physics albeit manufacturing cost constraints. The other way to increase optical details is a larger sensor, for example, double the sensor size to increase details twice. Medium format is one answer to double the sensor size. Panorama stitching is another answer. It literally extends the sensor area to simulate a large format and its optical imaging details respectively.
4X5 portrait in digital photography
4X5 portrait is a whole new league in BW photography. It is absolutely different from the 35mm portrait. It takes a lot longer time for setting so it is never similar to candid or decisive moment photo. It is painstakingly prepared and staged moment to deliver the essence of a human being. It is often a carefully selected moment to deliver reality.
// to be continued //