November 28, 2008

Dear handful of German photographers discussing my work on

So, checking my stats I came across a TON of traffic coming from Germany. Specifically, from a post on a photography forum called You can see the discussion HERE.

I posted over on the workshop blog if anyone spoke German so they could translate it to find out what they were talking about. And kindly enough, someone commented on my post showing me google's answer to translating pages that are not in English.

Basically, the original post was asking, what tricks I was using to get such narrow depth of field on a handful of pictures I had posted on this blog (exhibit 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Simply put? There are no tricks. Let me be very clear, nothing you see on this blog, or the newly launched website has any form of photo manipulation done to it to make it look soft and or sharp. I do no sharpening of my images for the blog/website.

99% of my work is STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA. I shoot my work on various Fuji films (400H, 800Z, Neopan 1600, Neopan 400) and some Kodak films as well (BW400CN, E100VS, TMZ3200). I develop it myself as well as scan it in house.

The images you see on this blog and on my website are how my film images turn out. My "post processing" is done in camera in the exposure and choice of film. Obviously, in the scanning there is some color correction done along with correction for density, but that is it. I go through and edit for dust or imperfections found on the negatives as well after the images are scanned. Also, I will go in and straighten out lines if a negative was scanned crooked or if I want certain perspective control (straight lines in buildings etc).

So, back to the question at hand. How do I get such narrow depth of field on the images in question?

CONTAX 645 with an 80mm F2 lens

F2!!!??? What does that mean? It is a SUPER fast lens, the fastest medium format lens available (to my knowledge - scratch that, Mamiya out did Contax with an F/1.9 lens but it is not Zeiss glass...).

Is depth of field different on film than it is on digital? Simply put, YES. Completely different. So different that it sparked a 3 page posting on a forum as to figure out what "tricks" I was using in post production to get this look.

Can this look be duplicated digitally? I don't know. Apparently not according to this forum's post. Maybe (somebody send me some jpegs of your best rendition of digital captures with the look of "film")? But how long would it take to create the look and why even do it if I can do it so simply on film, a medium that is just to tangible?

I have a real working relationship with my film. I can honestly say that if that aspect was taken away from the process of making images, it would not feel like I was doing photography. Film is what works for me. Film is what gives me the look that I create. Film is what gives me the tangible softness and pastel colors found in my work. Film is the only medium for me to fully express what it is I am trying to emulate in my work; the inherit light in people and everyday life.

Is digital "bad"? No way, no how. Film is just what works for me. And what works for me, may not work for you and vice-versa.

Das is gut, ya? other words, leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.


uberBrides said...

It's why we love your 'look' so much!

Anonymous said...

"Is depth of field different on film than it is on digital? Simply put, YES."

Are dogs bigger than cats? Simply put, YES. Except for chiuauas, yorkshire terriers, etc.

You might clarify that the medium has nothing to do with the depth of field, but that the size of the medium does, and that it just so happens that getting a digital medium of that size costs $30,000 or more, and that's why you never see digital shots with that same depth of field.
(Unless you're shooting on a full-frame Canon with an 85L. Mmmm, bokeh-licious =)

(But still maintaining that the depth of field is not associated with the look you get with film. Digital still doesn't give you that look even if you can get the same bokeh)

Jonathan Canlas said...

yes, the difference in depth of field is found in the format. 35mm vs 120/220mm. though the softness of film I feel amplifies the bokeh in comparison to digital especially on medium format or larger formats. with digital, even in bokeh shots, it is still too "sharp". my look is not because of the the depth of field. it is because it is shot on film. though i will say, the look of the contax shot wide open, is pretty unique.

Chris Yarrow said...

Jon, I wish I could crawl around in your head, mate!

Tack sharp images, beautiful bokeh, incredible colours. You're a master and while I appreciate that using film might have a great deal to do with how you do what you do (that's a lot of 'do'), I think there's more to your shots than the format you use (in that good way, right)

I shoot digital because I don't have the minerals to shoot film - yet! But when I do, man, I wanna shoot just like you!

Michelle said...

The fact that you use film is why I hired you as a photographer. There is something so beautiful about the richness of film. I also hate how easily manipulated digital can be so a photographer can fix their mistakes. The more I learn and try to understand about photography the more I understand what I already are a genius!

Leilani Bascom said...

I've already translated a bit of what they were saying, so it's more understandable in acutal human language than what the google translation brought up, I mean, you got some of the ideas, but they've been having an ultra-technical discussion about your work, lots of photo words in German that I'm now learning =) The guy with the main question seems quite complimentary of your style, quite taken with it, and he's figured out what you're using, but still pretty amazed...I'll email you...

kim said...

Your work is amazing. The narrow depth of field you use is just one of the many reasons I love it. I do have a couple quetsions you may or may feel so inclined to answer, Do manually focus each shot? And do you shoot ALL your pictures wide open? (Even the ones where you are further away from the subject?)

Jonathan Canlas said...

Kim, yes, I shoot EVERYTHING in manual focus. I JUST started trying autofocus with the beam at receptions at night but, I always revert back to manual.

I don't shoot everything wide open. No way. But I do seem to camp out at certain fstops on certain lenses.

The further away you are from your subject, no matter what fstop you use, your depth of field will be greater than if you were closer. So, farther away, I'll shoot closer to wide open because I know my depth of field is a lot larger/bigger than if I was closer.

I hope that helps!

Vaitai 6 said...

WOW! Found you off of Natalie Norton's blog. Your work is absolutely AMAZING and INSPIRING. A little over my head... but I'm all about the challenge. One day I'd LOVE to experience film the way you do. Love it!

jared said...

First off your depth of field rocks so much you've got the Germans looking in on you. Thats where the best of the best manufactured goods in the world are made, at least the after market parts for my swedish volvo.

Kind of a funny thing happened. I finally bought a digital camera (nikon D700) which is great for the low light situations I find appealing. But one main reason for buying into digital was the ease of shooting without thinking how many rolls I've shot or I need to make it to Picture Line before 6 kind of frustrations. I found the near endless shooting to be good and bad thing. I can shoot like crazy which is not my style and has since messed me up a bit but my "previsualization" that Mr. T taught in class is coming back. The other is that customers then think you can just shoot for "free" without thinking of the endless post work you have to do. My first family session went over by an hour with "just one more of..." which I didn't mind at the time cause it was a new camera.

But the other thing that got me was my sister. She wants the kids shot and she then says, "but I want it shot with film because digital is so illusive, I want negatives that will last." At first it kind of shocked me since I just showed off my new camera. But then I realized that meant I could shoot film without someone thinking I wasn't current with digital.

Thanks for the insight Jon. Thats some serious glass you've got at F 2. No need for a $30,000 digital camera other than that $30,000 scanner you've got.