We had gone to India for our summer vacation this year. While in Mumbai, we visited a school for relatively underprivileged kids, where one of our friends volunteered. It was a wonderful yet humbling experience. These kids have relatively little but they were so cheerful and the joy on their faces was just infectious!
I had not taken any digital camera on this vacation. These shots were all taken with the Contax G2, Fuji Superia 400 (first time I used this and I really liked it), the Carl Zeiss 28 f2.8 and 50 f2 lenses and the Contax TLA-200 flash.
We had organised some snacks for the kids and a drawing/ art competition with some small prizes thrown in. The kids were delighted and had so much fun. Our children had also come along and I hope they got something from the experience.
During our Easter trip to Phuket, I shot a lot of film. had taken one roll of Velvia 50 as well. While I really like Ektar and also Portra and Fuji Pro, there is something special about slide film as opposed to color negative film. True, there’s almost no exposure latitude. So if you’ve blown a highlight or your shadows are too dark, bye bye. But when you do get it right, it is just beautiful.
And there is simply no other film like Velvia. Yes, its not everyday stock. And just don’t try and capture people with it. For landscapes, it is like magic. Too saturated? Yes. A bit removed from reality? Yes. But nothing else can make something boring relatively interesting like Velvia can.
So, what film would I take to a desert island?! It’s a really tough question but I guess push comes to shove, I would choose Kodak Ektar 100. I love b&w but end up capturing in color more often – there’s so much color in life, it would be shame to lose them. After all, one can always convert from color to b&w but not vice-versa.
My favorite film has got to be Velvia 50. But shooting with slide film is not always the best option. Exposure latitude is razor thin and the whole process is also quite expensive. So color negative film is the way to go more often than not. Then its usually a face off between some of the Fuji films, Kodak Portra and Kodak Ektar. I love Fuji and my favorite medium format film is Fuji Pro 160. But for 35mm, I prefer the Kodaks. If I know I will be shooting mainly portraits, then I will take the Portra (160 or 400). For everything else, its the Ektar.
I love the vibrancy of the film. It can make ordinary situations come alive in a really pleasing ways. The way it handles reds is very appealing to me. And greens too. It is almost Velvia like in many ways. Sometimes the vibrancy can get too much but a little bit of saturation/ vibrance reduction usually solves the issue.
The Contax G2 has got to be my favourite camera. Small size, outstanding lenses and easy to use – what’s not to love?! Well, there are a couple of frustrating things but that’s for another day. In the end, despite these minor annoyances, it is my favourite camera.
The Velvia 100 is an underrated and under-appreciated slide film. Perhaps unfairly and almost definitely because all the attention goes to the Velvia 50. Some time back, I had a mix of Velvia 50 and 100 in my bag. I shot a roll with the Velvia 100 before moving to the 50. This was my first encounter with Velvia and I was surprised that when I got the scans back from the lab, I found it really hard to see any difference between the two! All these shots were taken in Bali, Indonesia.
The Tonle Sap lake is a good excursion from Siem Reap. We went in late December 2014. I carried my Sony A7R as well as the Contax G2. The Contax was loaded with Kodak Portra 400, which I rated at ISO 100. Now, that’s a tip for any newbie to film. Overexpose by 2 stops or so because color film (not slide film!) as a lot of latitude in the highlights but very little in the shadows. So just overexpose and then pull back the shadows in Lightroom or similar software.
One fascinating attraction connected to the rivers that drain into the Tonle Sap is the Floating (or Flooded) Forest. These are flooded mangrove forests surrounding the cluster of Kompong Phluk villages. You visit them on small boats rowed by local villagers. These small boats are owned by separate families and is often their only source of income.
We visited Cambodia in December 2014. And it was a wonderful vacation. The people are extremely friendly and generally the country is reasonably well set up for tourism. And its really inexpensive. All of this makes for a great combination but most people really visit Cambodia for Angkor Wat, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is truly remarkable.
We visited Angkor Wat during the afternoon and it was truly stunning. This was taken with my favorite film camera, the Contax G2, loaded with Velvia 50 film.
But to truly experience the beauty of Angkor, one must go in the morning. I had done my research on when to go and which pond to stand in front of to get the sunrise reflection shot – exactly the same position from where the day photo above was taken. So, three of us woke up at 4:30am and left the hotel to go to Angkor. As expected, there were tons of tourists ahead of us but I knew that patience was the name of the game and the tourists would be gone as soon as the light became interesting from a photographer’s point of view. Luckily, my opportunity came soon enough and I got a position right in front of the lake.
I had taken my tripod, Sony A7R with Zeiss 16-35 FE lens and the Contax G2 with the Zeiss 28mm. I started taking shots with both cameras. The one below was taken with the Contax G2 loaded with Velvia 50.
This was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity (ah well I may come back to Angkor Wat but its surely not going to be frequent occurrence). And the clouds were wonderful. Much as I love film, when you want to shoot tons of images, digital is obviously the way to go. Also, given the huge contrasts and fast changing light, multiple exposures were called for.
This one below is an exposure blend of 3 photos taken with the Sony A7R and Zeiss 16-35 FE just before sunrise.
And this one is again a blend of three exposure but this time taken just after sunrise.
Amazing isn’t it, how light and photography medium shape such different looks from the same subject.
And by the way, I spoke of exposure blend for 2 of the photos above. I think High Dynamic Range imaging is a great technique for fulfilling photographic vision given the limitations of sensors compared to our eyes. However, I do not like most of the garish HDR stuff we see on the internet. There are lots of examples of HDR done “right” that I hope to compile some day. In the meanwhile, if you are interested in the concept, this free tutorial from B&H is the perfect place to start.