Film is like a warm cozy blanket… it’s soft and warm and feels like a place of safety. I started out in school shooting everything on transparency film. I still believe it’s the true way to learn how to be the best photographer you can be. Digital technology is based off of the priciples of film, and if you don’t understand film… it’s going to be hard to understand her more complicated younger brother. With transparency your exposure must be spot on, or you’re going to be in quite the pickle. As my career in photography has progressed I’ve gone back and forth on the matter of film. After I bought my first digital camera I admit, I thought I would never go back. Now it seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry is a “professional photographer”, and I can’t go to a networking event without bumping into 5 or 10 competitors. What makes me different, a difference that you can see? On this blog I really want to address this issue between film and digital, because I’m heading back to my roots and I’m very proud to say that shooting film makes me a better photographer. Every shot I take has thought and heart put into it, but film takes what I see and makes it smooth as butter.
I have some amazing clients, clients that understand what I do and why I do it. Kristine at Cognition Studio (the same designer who did my killer identity design) recently approached me about doing new portraits for their website. She was inspired by a cover of W Magazine that just hit the newsstands with Brad Pitt on the cover… you know the one. The photos in the spread were done by Chuck Close had a very specific look. Close used an archaic technique called Daguerreotype, and if you’ve ever seen a photograph predating 1850 you’ve probably been looking at one.
The Daguerreotype was the first successful photographic process, the discovery being announced on 7 January 1839. The process consisted of:
- exposing copper plates to iodine, the fumes forming light-sensitive silver iodide. The plate would have to be used within an hour.
- exposing to light – between 10 and 20 minutes, depending upon the light available.
- developing the plate over mercury heated to 165 degrees. This caused the mercury to amalgamate (found this word on the internet) with the silver.
- fixing the image in a warm solution of common salt (later sodium sulphite was used.)
- rinsing the plate in hot distilled water.
The process of creating a Daguerreotype is detailed in itself, but the actual photograph is so desirable because of it’s ability to record even the smallest, most minute amount of detail. Sometimes the details might reveal something that the photographer had not intended.
In Brad Pitts’ case, every line, wrinkle, blackhead, and 3rd world adopted baby was revealed with the printing of his negatives.
After researching exactly how to give Cognition Studio the best from a photography perspective, I really wanted to go as true to the process as possible. Traditional Daguerreotypes have an exposure time of 30-45 seconds. That’s a LONG time to hold one’s breath, plus I had an apprehension to working with liquid mercury (I eat sushi, but come on) Shooting film, however, was a must. I busted out the 4×5 moves for these portraits, which was challenging enough. The focal plane is narrow so the subject must remain perfectly still after focusing while the film backs are inserted.
Yes, the filters were applied in Photoshop to give it that Daguerreotype look. I cheated, don’t tell.