College Student: Bruce Davidson, Danny Lyon ect. & ISO

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by brian_austin|3, Jan 9, 2011.

  1. Hi
    I am a College Student majoring in photography. Ive decided to try to learn film better as most of my favorite photographers work with it, and I also notice the increased depth and quality it gives. I have been working on a few documentary projects for a long time, and have fallen in love with Bruce Davidson's work and Danny Lyon, not to mention many others. As I look at their images, I am puzzled in a few areas.
    It is my understanding that most of the photographers from that era used Tri-x and shot handheld. This means 400 ISO. When I look at some of Mr.Lyon's interior work I am am caught up on how he has so much depth, in such a low light situation, and from what I can tell low noise. I would assume that a photographer would have to shoot wide open in such conditions, thus decreasing the depth. Or they would have to shoot high ISO film and have much grain, but is my understanding that most worked with a ISO 400 B&W film. I also understand that this work is all hand-held unless I am wrong, correct me. Also that most of the focal lengths are 50mm, 35mm and 24mm(ish).
    I understand that Bruce Davidson used fill flash and a press view camera for his work on "East 100th Street"...but still some of his low light photos from "Brooklyn Gang" still puzzle me, knowing the possible options for such a shooting condition.
    I really want to shoot with film. I am tired of everyone telling me to just raise the ISO of my 5D. I invest a lot of time in my work and I want images wich are of the highest quality I can attempt to get. I also am slight dyslexic, so although ive invested quite a bit of money into books and time on the subject I still have yet to find an answer for me which translates properly.
    So I ask sincerely for your knowledge on film and technique... and thank you in advance...
    some examples:
    Bruce Davidson:
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://img3.visualizeus.com/thumbs/10/06/02/black,and,white,photo,vintage-59a52e835760f0c2bdb5aa1435ef0def_h.jpg&imgrefurl=http://vi.sualize.us/view/ricardobrusd/59a52e835760f0c2bdb5aa1435ef0def/&usg=__-47Vo7DoBrpOm_07qjGYz7BVQic=&h=329&w=500&sz=31&hl=en&start=80&zoom=1&tbnid=SPUXC4gEt2dhnM:&tbnh=135&tbnw=205&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbruce%2Bdavidson%2Bbrooklyn%2Bgang%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26biw%3D1379%26bih%3D800%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C1803&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=365&ei=YX0qTcCzJIagnAfa7PjsAQ&oei=MX0qTZ30JoydnwfP8oHtDQ&esq=4&page=4&ndsp=24&ved=1t:429,r:8,s:80&tx=145&ty=58&biw=1379&bih=800
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://lh5.ggpht.com/_NYC3fsVW1n8/RwLL740bZxI/AAAAAAAAC9Y/3zCk9X1EQtQ/NYC15392.jpg&imgrefurl=http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/idredir%3Funame%3Dphotography.a.j%26target%3DPHOTO%26id%3D5116876966256667250&usg=__G84qSpmgXI3Rn56kJEE8IQ3h6KY=&h=400&w=599&sz=79&hl=en&start=55&zoom=1&tbnid=84RcrcgsxlegUM:&tbnh=147&tbnw=196&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbruce%2Bdavidson%2Bbrooklyn%2Bgang%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26biw%3D1379%26bih%3D800%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C990&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=398&ei=tn0qTYexEMvenQeMr82HAg&oei=MX0qTZ30JoydnwfP8oHtDQ&esq=10&page=3&ndsp=25&ved=1t:429,r:4,s:55&tx=98&ty=51&biw=1379&bih=800
    Danny Lyon:
    http://www.aperture.org/gloria-and-rosario-santa-maria-1972.html
    Eugene Richards:
    http://autruchon.tumblr.com/post/1155437208/eugene-richards-still-house-hollow-tennessee
     
  2. Without being intimately familiar with Bruce Davidson or Danny Lyon's technical approach, I would say that the photos posted above would be achievable with Tri X and a fine grain developer such as D76. There is not a great deal of shadow detail. I would guess that the lens could have been a 35mm F2, which would give sufficient speed and depth of field for these photographs.
    I think much of the quality you are describing (apart from their exceptional ability as photographers and their use of light), could be a result of excellent printing technique. A fine wet print has a certain look which is very different to digital.
     
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    While one can attribute some of the technical quality to the printing, most of it comes from the lighting. The idea that film somehow makes the quality of these images "highest" is just plain absurd. Great photographs don't come from materials science, they come from vision and execution. The actual material used is a very tiny piece of execution.
     
  4. "Great photographs don't come from materials science, they come from vision and execution"
    Absolutely, I'm not suggesting otherwise. Merely trying to help the original poster, who essentially asked how to get a classic B&W look, and mentioned a couple of photographers they like.
     
  5. Most or all of the photos you linked to could be shot at 400 ISO without much problem. You can also get ISO 1250 or even
    1600 from Tri-X and Diafine developer, for instance.
     
  6. Shooting with a wider lens, like a 28mm, will give you a larger depth of field, too.
     
  7. A fast wide angle lens and a tripod may be the answer. I now use ASA 400 film, but for much of my life I stuck to ASA 125 or ASA 100 to escape excessive grain; and I have seen many good photos taken on emulsions a fifth of those speeds. In my experience too, film is not inherently superior to digital. The human eye is what sees and the camera and lens only do the recording. They must give a certain minimal quality, of course, but that is all.
     
  8. I'm thankful I've got ISO100-6400 all in camera. Film alchemy was a fun experience but as much as I liked the smell of fixer, I surely didn't like wasting films, not to mention the time and money spent. I wish digital was an option during my college days...
     
  9. i dont think it's a bad idea to want to experiment with film, especially if you already have a 5d, but jeff makes a very good point. so does leslie.
     
  10. "I really want to shoot with film. I am tired of everyone telling me to just raise the ISO of my 5D."<p>He
    wants to shoot film- perfectly legitimate. Some superb photographers prefer it, regardless of who
    argues it isn't important. I don't think the question had anything to do with shooting digital, so why start that discussion here? It's a subjective choice and a topic for a different thread.
     
  11. Brian Austin: "I also notice the increased depth and quality [film] gives."
    This is questionable, Ray, therefore people have questioned it. It is not the use of film which makes the work of Bruce Davidson and others what it is.
     
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    It is not the use of film which makes the work of Bruce Davidson and others what it is.​
    Exactly. The problem with this type of post is that it is fairly common, whether digital or film, and runs like this: "I want my photos to have these technical characteristics. How do I do that?" I have never seen anyone come back and say "Here is how my photos came out." Instead, by spending time on things like materials science or Photoshop actions, people ignore what makes photos look the way they do and impact people the way they do. Once someone has figured out, with whatever camera they have, even a phone camera, to get photos that work well, have great light, and some sort of emotional impact, then it's time to start looking at what can be done to "improve" the photos, i.e., achieve a certain look, by changing materials and/or methodology.
     
  13. Brian, I'm not sure I see anything in the Davidson shots that couldn't be done with pushed B&W film. As others have commented, I don't think the quality of the pictures is much to do with materials, really, but it is to do with an excellent command and control of those materials -- and perhaps more than anything else, marvellous printing. I know from comments Davidson makes in his lovely little book England/Scotland 1960 that he did sometimes use 1600ASA (or equivalent) film -- I specifically recall comments to the effect that he used an old high sensitivity film (I don't remember what) because of the pearly grey s it gave and the way these rendered England's foggy winter light.... I can't check specifics because I don't have the book here in my office.
     
  14. I agree with the others who've said that this could have been done with 400 speed film, pushed to 800 or even 1600. I concur just as strongly that the technical merits of the photos aren't as important as their emotional impact, which is a product of the skill and artistic vision of the photographer.
    One thing to remember is that you're seeing these photos at a very small size. At those sizes, you won't see grain, the tonal gradations are going to be much smoother, and lack of sharpness is less apparent, giving the impression of greater depth of field.
    I can't help but think that if you saw these same photos enlarged to a much greater degree and hung on a gallery wall, that you might notice that they weren't as sharp, deep or grain-free as you believed from seeing them on the web. But despite not looking quite so good technically then, I think they would have just as powerful an effect on your feelings.
     
  15. Well, then...just start with Tri-x in d76 or Xtol. I chose Xtol 1:3 because it yield slightly finer grains than d76 If I remember right plus it was cheaper. If you are going to get your hands dirty, might as well as try Diafine w/ Tri-x @1600 or 1200. Hope you can still find a darkroom at the school...Remember film alchemist buffs do all kinds of short cuts but it is simplest to just follow all the rules in the beginning...
    Practice with both plastic and metal tanks and see which you prefer...I preferred metal while a friend had to have plastic...Good luck!
     
  16. Well I shoot film and digital and I find the formats to be very different. The digital certainly has it's good points but I find the prints to have a grainless flat nature to them. Tri-x film does have a depth and quality to it that is different. It's also black and white silver film. Anyway I find them very different. I do prefer the look from film especially B/W film. I did not look at the pictures as I need to get out of the house to work but a photo has limitations. They could push the film to a higher speed, shoot as the lowest shutter speed possible to achieve the depth of field that they were using. Since you are a photography major (student) it would make sense to me to become very familiar with film, the qualities and methods you could possibly use. The digital part will not be hard to learn as it will be shoved down your throat by people who live in a little box and cannot allow others or themselves to exit.
     
  17. If your interested in Bruce Davidson, this might be of interest: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/photobooth/2011/01/video-bruce-davidson.html
     
  18. oddly enough the last time i saw Bruce Davidson he was sporting a 5d
     
  19. jtk

    jtk

    fwiw I recall Davidson talking about hauling a 5X7 (five by seven!) view via subway to his gang work...he also mentioned the company of his wife (tripod bearer, perhaps). This was in a mid-late 60s lecture in San Francisco. Maybe he toted a press 4X5 too...somebody should ask him today, see what he says.
    I don't find it "odd" that he'd use a ff DSLR. He's 40+/- years older now, may want to travel lighter... and he obviously has a different agenda than he did back then...as we all know, 5DII is an incredibly fine tool for someone who's print-oriented ...like him.
    As to film speed, Acufine was commonly used specifically to push TriX to 1200. Very fine grain. Others used Edwal FG7 with sodium sulfite to accomplish something similar. Talking about Sixties/Seventies. As well, SuperXX was readily available, and that stuff was beautiful.
     
  20. jtk

    jtk

    ... as to the "grainless, flat nature" of inkjet prints...that has entirely to do with limited skills. Inkjet prints benefit more than did silver prints by paper selection, and they offer infinitely more subtlety.
    The only weakness of inkjet Vs optical printing...of which I'm aware...involves platinum. Irving Penn printed platinum. Inkjet of HCB's work exceeds anything optical, and I'm sure the same would apply to that of AA (he was in fact devoted to scanning and digital tech (for lithography) in his last years, decades ago.
     
  21. Hey thanks for the awesome responses! Just to note I do understand that it is the photographer that makes the image with their vision. I am good at that, and I will upload some examples of my work once school starts in Feb again. I just get stuck on the technical side of wet photography, as I was never taught it beyond how to develop in T-Max, and make a basic print even here in College. Ive had to also self teach myself nearly everything I know.
    I have never used D76 & Id have to buy mix my own since T-Max is what school buys for us. I just feel strange at times when I find myself shooting at 6400 or higher in digital in a window lit room, knowing that a lot of work was done with Tri-x. I also still like the density of a film image. Maybe its just I like to work in difficult situations ha. Im not hating on digital though, I do owe digital a lot, and I think once I can afford a 5d mark 2 ill be set in that realm for a long time. So what Im understanding then is really all Im having do really to get to the core of my answer is underexpose with the depth I am trying to achieve and push the TriX? Correct me if Im wrong here.
     
  22. jtk

    jtk

    If you're after a film look, don't shoot T-max-walmartoid fillum. Do shoot Tri-X.
     
  23. So what Im understanding then is really all Im having do really to get to the core of my answer is underexpose with the depth I am trying to achieve and push the TriX? Correct me if Im wrong here.​
    In short yes, shoot Tri-x @1200 or 1600 and compensate during development. Of course, with film, you have to make the decision at the beginning of the roll and can't switch at any other time like digital. I shot Tri-x at 200 (day) and 1600(night) often when I shot film...you might want to try the film forum as well here on Pn.
     

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