My 2018 EMULSIVE Secret Santa Experience by Michael Jin

© 2019 Michael Jin. Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/2 with Sony A7RIII

For those that don’t know, the EMULSIVE Secret Santa is an annual event within the film photography community organized by EM of emulsive.org. The idea is that a bunch of participants all around the world sign up and get paired with a partner to send a gift to so that we can all open our gifts together on Christmas day. Like many of these types of events, the person that you’re sending to is usually not the person who is gifting to you (except in a few rare scenarios) so it’s all a big surprise in the end. When you sign up, you can either choose to ensure that you’re shipping domestically or say that you’re open to ship internationally. Despite the fact that the EMULSIVE Secret Santa is pretty much talked about on every film photography podcast that I listen to, 2018 was the first year that I decided to actually participate.

The thing is that I’m not really a “holiday” type of person. I don’t find any particular joy in the whole tradition of gift exchange and I pretty much want to claw my ears out whenever I start to hear Christmas music all day everywhere I go. I’ve never participated in a Secret Santa simply because I’m a grumpy grinch. I’ve always been of the opinion that we’re all better off just keeping our own money in our pockets and buying the things that we actually want rather than getting sweaters or socks that we’ll never wear and pretending to be happy about it. I guess I’m just not really sentimental in that regard. This year was a bit different, though. I’ve been making an active effort to try to open myself up and be a more social person in general. I figured that the EMULSIVE Secret Santa would be a good way to connect (even if just in a limited fashion) with another person. So I went on to Elfster, which was the site that the event was using to organize, registered as a participant, and waited to be paired.

It took a while, but I finally got my pairing and it happened to be someone in Georgia. Now while the minimum gift value is $20 and all registrants get to create a wish list, we are encouraged to find out a little bit about the person receiving the gift via an anonymous Q&A mechanism built into the Elfster platform. While some people simply ignore this and send whatever rolls of film or camera that they have pre-determined regardless of which recipient they get paired with, EM emphasizes that the idea is to strengthen the community and encourages us to tailor our gifts by using these Q&A exchanges. Figuring that since I’ve gone out of my way to participate, I decide to flow with the spirit of the event and proceed to send a bunch of anonymous questions to my recipient. Then I hear nothing back.

Now I’m left with a choice. Do I just send whatever since my recipient is not responding, or do I wait it out a bit longer to see if he eventually responds? The days keep passing and the Christmas Day deadline looms ever nearer as I keep logging into Elfster to see if there has been any update. I’m seeing all of these notifications in the activity board where people are thanking their Santas for their gifts—some of them cheat by opening the gift early—and there I am feeling like a dipshit for not having sent my gift out yet. Finally, just as I’m about to break, I get a response from my recipient who says that he simply hadn’t been checking his Elfster account. We have a brief back and forth and I get an idea for some film stocks that I think he’d like. I put the order into B&H and I end up shipping it via UPS 3-Day to ensure that it arrives on time since it was all so last minute. Thankfully, I get confirmation through Elfster that my gift was received and I breathe a sigh of relief. Then it hits me. Nobody ever sent me any questions to answer.

So I know I’ve done my part, but now I’m wondering what going on with the other end of this exchange as it pertains to me. Is my Santa one of the people who just have something that they already have in mind to send? Is something on the way? It doesn’t seem like it since Elfster does have a button to press once you send your package to let your recipient to know that something has been shipped (and a separate button for the recipient to press to confirm receipt). I check and there’s nothing to indicate that anything has been shipped and my Santa has been completely silent. My next thought immediately goes to, “Is my Santa one of those dead beats that I hear about who just enters to receive something and never sends anything out on their end?” A system like this is ripe for abuse, after all. It would seem a pretty dick move, but as Christmas gets closer and closer, it looks increasingly common.

Finally I check my Elfster account one day and there’s a message for me.

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OK. I can understand that shit happens and I know how stressful finals can be. What’s more important? Personal circumstances or a gift exchange? Of course I tell him to take care of whatever he needs to take care of. Clearly, I’m going to be getting SOMETHING even if it’s not on time. All he has to do is drop it in the mail at some point. Right?

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RADIO SILENCE…

This is a screenshot that I took today as I write this post on January 19, 2019. It’s been nearly a month since Christmas. There’s been no further communication, no confirmation of a package sent, and no package received. Because of this, I’m going to go ahead and put my grumpy hat back on. You see, even if it was part of an exchange, this would have literally been the only gift that I received this past Christmas. I know that I am not the only person to experience this as it is a known problem and it seems like EM and his assistants are working in the background on their contingency for these scenarios, but frankly speaking, they shouldn’t have to have a contingency because people should be decent enough to either abide by their word or withdraw if circumstances prevent them from fulfilling their end of the agreement.

Some people have posted about how their joy has simply been knowing that the person that they gifted to enjoyed their present and I certainly feel the joy that my own gift was well received by the person to whom I was assigned. I suppose I feel rather ambivalent in that I also feel betrayed and angry at myself for allowing to feel this way because I allowed myself to have enough faith in a stranger whom I knew nothing about to get my hopes up. I think I would have almost preferred complete radio silence altogether than that single message that made hope briefly blip on my otherwise jaded and cynical radar.

Whatever the final resolution to this will be, I have already decided that I am not going to participate in this event again. I commend EM for doing his utmost to rally the film photography community around this event and doing his best to organize it—even going so far as to have contingency plans in place for situations like mine. That having been said, my experience will be that in an event that was specifically designed to strengthen the bonds in this community, someone entered to take advantage of it and I simply don’t want to lose what little faith in people that I have left.

Good luck, EM. Thanks for trying.

© 2016 Michael Jin. NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D with Nikon D810.

Micro-Contrast and Other Nonsense by Michael Jin

Even though I don’t exactly have money pouring out of my orifices, I’m always on the lookout for new (and sometimes old?) and interesting camera equipment. One of a biggest benefits of switching from a DSLR system to an MILC system has been the fact that I can find an adapter to fit just about any DSLR or SLR lens ever made onto my Sony A7RIII. Sure, I had by Helios 44M, Helios 40-2, and a few Jupiter lenses back on my D850, but it was much harder to find lenses to fit that camera since they had to be specifically modified to achieve infinity focus and even when you got one that was, manually focusing on a modern DSLR was just not a very fun thing to do.

Because of this, I’ve found a whole world of vintage lenses that has opened up to me since getting my new camera and this is nice because a lot of older lenses tend to be cheaper than the new stuff. How does one go about sorting out good lenses from bad ones, though? As I’ve said, I don’t have tons of money so I’m constantly reading lens reviews so try to get an idea of their characteristics and performance… and so begins my rant.

© 2019 Michael Jin. Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/2 (M42 Mount) on Sony A7RIII.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. As I read these reviews for lenses, I really start to get that feeling. Going through essay after essay of people driveling on and on in their efforts to describe the visual characteristics of these lenses quickly begins to feel like listening to Food Network hosts describing whatever garbage that they’re munching on for the camera. I’m not sure where the language originated from (and I admittedly don’t care enough to go looking), but you start to see the same fucking words over and over again applied to EVERY SINGLE LENS. If you’re at all interested in photography, you’ve probably seen them, too. How many lenses have “CREAMY BOKEH", “BUTTERY SMOOTH BOKEH”, or some variation of this? How many lenses “DRAW WELL” or “RENDER IMAGES WELL”? And, for fuck’s sake, how many lenses have “GREAT MICRO-CONTRAST”?

WHAT THE FUCK IS MICRO-CONTRAST?

© 2017 Michael Jin. NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G on Nikon D810.

More importantly, however

WHY THE HELL SHOULD I CARE?

Unlike most things in life, I’ve actually taken the time to try to look up what the hell “micro=contrast” is simply due to the ubiquity of the term’s use in discussions of lenses and the fact that people constantly talk about it like it’s the most important thing in the world. As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be any universally accepted definition of what this term means nor have I found an unequivocal method of testing for it. It seems more like bullshit jargon made up by people and thrown around in discussions to sound smarter than other people or simply as a catch-all term used to quantify all of the shit that people can’t actually describe with other words.

On the one hand, I get it. If you put me on the spot and asked me to describe how any given lens renders, I would have an incredibly difficult time explaining it to you. If you asked me to start comparing lenses to each other, this would only get more difficult. For you, the reader, this might be disappointing if I was positioning myself as some sort of expert in these matters so I need to find SOME way to describe what’s going on even if I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think “micro-contrast” is pretty much the photographic version of “umami”. You can’t point out exactly what the hell it is, but you “know it” when you encounter it. It also happens to be the universal fallback for any argument that involves justifying the price of a really really expensive lens when every quantifiable metric favors the cheaper lens.

© 2019 Michael Jin. Mir-1 37mm f/2.8 Lens (M42 Mount) on Sony A7RIII.

Whether it’s Bokeh, Micro-Contrast, Peceptual Megapixels (an even more egregiously coined term), or whatever else, I find that I’m really tired of reading about this crap. Here’s an idea: WHY NOT JUST SHOW ME? Considering that all of these reviewers actually have their hands on the lenses that they are reviewing, it’s pretty amazing how much crap some of them can write while not showing a damned photo other than some test charts or the occasional plan gray shot to show the vignette at different apertures. Does anyone seriously care about this shit? If you show me some nice photos taken with a lens, I’m not going to ask you what the MTF chart looks like or how many “perceptual megapixels” the lens resolves.

Sure, tell me what the lens feels like. Describe how well the focus ring is dampened or whether the lens suffers from focus breathing. These are all things that are an essential part of the use of a lens that you can’t convey through an image. But by God, why the hell would you bother trying to describe the visual rendition that a lens creates when you can just take some damned pictures and post them?

© 2017 Michael Jin. Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 on Nikon D810.

Anyway, I just felt like letting loose after a round of reading through some vintage lens reviews. If you’re a reviewer and you happen to be struggling with how to describe a lens. Do us all a favor and just go out and take a fucking picture.

© 2017 Michael Jin. Helios 44M 58mm f/2 on Nikon D810.

Oh, and the latest lens that I’ve been eyeing? It’s the Jupiter-9.

On Experimentation and Consistency by Michael Jin

Ilford FP4+, and Ilford HP5+

Kodak HC-110, Adox Rodinal

Photographer’s Formulary TF-5 Fixer

HEICO Permawash

Kodak Photoflo

These are the film stocks that you will constantly see in my refrigerator and the chemicals that sit on my shelf. The reason? They provide affordable, consistent, readily available, and provide excellent results.

This doesn’t mean that I do not enjoy other emulsions or chemicals as I am constantly experimenting with new emulsions, chemistry, and techniques. I do, however, base all of my analog photography work off this foundation and I think that this is important. With analog photography, it’s so easy to get mired in the numerous possibilities. Despite the very much exaggerated “death of film”, there are dozens of options and hundreds of combinations available to you in regard to commercially available film emulsions and chemistry. Start going down the rabbit hole of reading opinions on the internet and you’ll quickly find yourself extremely confused. This confusion is only exacerbated these days with the inevitable hype that surrounds newer film releases such as JCH Streetpan, Street Candy, Ferrania P30, etc. many of which could be considered in the “boutique” category in terms of their availability. The same applies to chemistry with the recent release of Cinestill’s monobath. When these things get released, everyone wants to hop on the hype train and try them and frankly, I think you should. Don’t get too carried away, though.

If all you’re doing is experimenting with this and that, it not only becomes more difficult to focus on your actual photography since you’re spending so much time researching the newest thing that you want to try out, but it’s highly likely that the quality of your work is likely to suffer as well. Aside from the issue of your photographic vision, analog photography is a tactile art that involves the manipulation of physical materials. That manipulation requires an understanding of those materials. Refined control over those materials means a refined understanding of them as well. Understanding here is the result of practice and experience. It’s one thing to read on the internet that a certain film is “high contrast”. It’s another thing entirely to shoot ten rolls of it and reflect on how the settings you used in particular lighting situations translated to that particular emulsion. It’s one thing to read a general line about how agitation schemes will affect the development process, but it’s another to experiment over and over again with the same chemical and film emulsion using different agitation schemes to see the impact. This may sound incredibly obvious, but many people underestimate how important this intimate understanding actually is when it comes to developing consistent results across a body of work.

This is not to say that certain film emulsions naturally lend themselves better to certain purposes or that certain developers are not better or worse for particular results such as softer grain or higher contrast. Every single variable that you have (film emulsion, chemicals, techniques) are tools. Much like tools, however, a tool that you use extremely well that might only be 70% good for a particular purpose will probably get you better results than a tool that you’ve never used before that’s theoretically 99% good for that purpose. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me “What is the best film for ___________?”. My follow-up question is almost always, “What are your go-to films at each speed?” because when you don’t have a specific stock in mind, those films are what you should be turning to.

While I certainly keep the Ilford duo in my fridge at all times, I have other films there, too. These are films that I bring out for particular purposes when I know that I’m going to do something specific. If I need to push a film to 3200, I prefer Tri-X over HP5+. If I want moody street shooting at 400, I think that JCH Streetpan is an awesome film. If I’m taking a portrait in good lighting, I find Fomapan 100 to be a magnificent emulsion. If I want to throw something in my Holga for added “retro” style, then Retropan 320 Soft gives some really nifty extra-lo-fi results. If I really want tons of tonality on a bright day with some classic-looking grain, then Adox CHS II 100 would be my go-to (unfortunately, it’s been sold out for a while now). For a real cinematic look it’s Eastman XX all the way.

It’s actually quite rare at this point that I think that FP4+ or HP5+ are the IDEAL film for any particular task. If you dig through every possible combination of film and chemistry, there’s probably something that will work a bit better for the desired result. They are, however, some of the most versatile emulsions at their particular speeds, producing great results no matter what I’m looking for at that speed. They are emulsions that I know will not let me down and if I have only these two film stocks in my bag, I feel confident to take on just about anything.

When you start out, you will inevitably experiment and I think that the first thing you should try to find is your personal “go-to” film stocks at different speeds. What are the standards around which you want to build your body of work? As you experiment, you will begin to notice certain trends in your preferences. For instance, I realized early on that I simply was not partial to T-grained films. They have excellent tonality, amazing sharpness, and ridiculously fine grain, but to me they just felt too sterile and I felt that if I wanted that type of look, I could just shoot with my digital camera and convert it to black and white. So I moved toward more traditional cubic grain stocks and my desire for a great tones to serve as a versatile base led me to Ilford FP4+ and Ilford HP5+. Tri-X was a bit too high contrast for me at box speed (although it produces some great results), Acros 100 was a dubious proposition given Fuji’s status as a film manufacturer as of late, and companies like Adox and Rollei were not only nearly double the price here in the USA, but they were often out of stock for months at a time and I definitely wanted my “go-to” films to be something readily available that was probably not going to go away anytime soon. You might feel differently about any number of these things and arrive at a different conclusion in regard to your standard film stocks, which match your own personal style and ethos.

On the chemistry end, after having used Ilfosol-3, XTOL, D76, and other developers that either required mixing or fell to oxidation, I just wanted a highly concentrated developer that didn’t oxidize quickly and could be mixes on demand straight out of a bottle. Rodinal and HC-110 were natural choices for me and they behave differently enough at a range of dilutions that they give me a number of options with just two bottles rather than having a bunch of different developers slowly oxidizing. Again, availability, affordability, and reliability. I personally think that commercial chemistry is a bit easier than film stocks if only because there are less of them out there and quite often, there are only a handful that will be readily available in any area. Sure, the internet changes things a bit, but there’s nothing quite like being able to make an emergency run to your local camera shop to pick up chemistry in a pinch. For many, D76 or ID-11 is their standard developer with something like Rodinal or HC-110 taking a more specialized role. It’s all about personal preference.

Once you’ve settled on your standards, these will become the barometer by which you measure everything else. When you experiment to discover new tools, change only one element at a time. If you’re usually developing in Rodinal with Tri-X, use Rodinal with JCH Streetpan or D76 with Tri-X. Jumping from Rodinal+Tri-X to D76+JCH Streetpan won’t really tell you much about Streetpan or D76 individually, even if someone on a forum might have posted a nice image using that combination. Experiment in a deliberate and systematic manner and you will greatly increase your understanding of new tools that you can add to your creative arsenal. I think an important point to add about experimentation is to take your time getting to know the new thing you’re using. Shooting Retropan 80S today and then moving onto trying out Ferrania P30 tomorrow gives you little time or sample size to develop an understanding of the behavior of Retropan 80S in a variety of lighting conditions. So when you decide to pull it out later down the road, you might encounter unexpected results because you’re assuming that it’ll behave a certain way despite the shooting environment being different. Remember that being an analog medium, film stocks are subject to all sorts of different variables from lighting conditions to the ambient temperature. Take your time with each new thing and develop a good feel for it before moving on. When I try a new stock, I will usually buy 10 rolls at a time because it’ll generally take me that long to form a decent opinion about it.

I’d like to encourage everyone getting started in analog photography to find their fundamental tools first and foremost and then begin to explore the wonderful universe of possibilities from that anchor point. If you’ve found your own standard tools, feel free to let me know. I’d love to hear them.

Fuck People, Fuck Their Opinions, and Fuck Their Ideals by Michael Jin

You that saying about opinions being like assholes? It’s true. Everyone has a god damned opinion about everything—myself included. Sometimes, such as in the case of your employer’s opinion of you, these opinions matter. Other times, such as in the case of the opinion of some random passerby you don’t know, they just don’t. Regardless of whether they matter or not, we work so hard to cultivate our self image so that people form positive opinions of us, don’t we? Be it our personal image or business image, managing social perception is a very real thing that we all engage in on some level.

We buy certain clothes, we cut our hair in certain styles, we listen to certain music, we drive certain cars, etc. Businesses conduct focus groups to determine which shade of purple gets the most positive reactions or which programs get aired. The fucked up thing is that it all makes a great deal of sense to manage your image because you never know what kind of situation might arise and there’s no second chance to make a first impression. That random passerby that you flipped off might be the person conducting your job interview later in the day. Some guy you pulled up to and swore at might end up being the waiter at a restaurant that you visit. It’s only natural, then, that we would hedge our bets and try to be the best version of ourselves that we can be at all times—or at very least the most socially acceptable version of ourselves.

I’d like to preface the rest of this by saying that I don’t believe that we ought to be complete assholes to one another. There’s room in this world for civil discourse when it comes to areas of disagreement and whenever practical, I believe that physical conflict is something that should be avoided. That having been said, I do believe that this practice of social image management has led to the repression of something very critical to all of us: our very humanity.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided that this ideal social image that we’ve created for ourselves in the process of managing our social images is the way people ought to be rather than understanding that far from our default human nature, it’s merely a facade that we construct as an act of enlightened self-interest. We then denounce those who deviate from this fabricated ideal as crude, rude, crass, unenlightened, or whatever other negative term we can come up with to codify them as lower forms of the human creature. Then we apply social penalties in the form of hiring practices, housing practices, boycotts, etc.

Of course there certainly exists a contingent of people who probably belong in these categories and certainly deserve to be demonized. I’m not going to argue that everyone is somehow good in their own fucked up way. Some people are just horrible human beings and a blight to society. This is not meant to be an apology for murderers, rapists, burglars, or drug dealers (that deserves its own post). This is about people who might swear, make an off-color joke, or hold views that are not popular. It’s about the guy on the football team that likes to sing Taylor Swift songs in the shower or the cheerleader that wants to get a face tattoo. It’s about people being who they are and accepting reality for what it is rather than the idyllic vision of it that we hold in our minds.

You see, we are not these perfectly manicured creatures that we expect ourselves to be. The fact that we so often have to suppress our urges to gain social acceptance means that we are effectively being told that we are not good enough for society as we are. Our anger is not acceptable for society. Our lust is not acceptable for society. Our greed is not acceptable for society. Hell, we have 7 Deadly Sins that are codified that pretty much cover the gamut of our base urges. Whether it’s by parenting, a religious institution, the legal institution, academic institution, or just the confluence of plain old everyday interactions, we are told that the person we desire to be is unacceptable and that we must, instead, desire to be somehow “better” than our real selves. So we create these masks for ourselves and we become chameleons, adjusting out behavior and language to different situations. In the process, we often lose sight of who we are on the inside and, in doing so, lose the ability to empathize with those that choose not to play this game.

How does any of this relate to photography? There are a number of ways, but I suspect that if you think about it, you’ll know them. Photography, like fashion, has its trends that come and go. Photographers, like country club members, have their own manners of interaction. Photography communities, like political parties, so often become echo chambers of people voicing the same ideas, patting each other on the back, and hounding anyone who dares to disagree. As for why I started to think about this issue, I’ll leave you with this.

Recently I began to handle some rudimentary social media posting for a company. A big part of the company identity and branding involves embracing the heritage and spirit of New York City. There wasn’t much going on in terms of prepared content so I decided to put up some photos that I wasn’t really doing anything with to fill any void. I was told that the black and white film photos that I was posting were “too depressing” and that I should remove the hashtag “#thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter” that I had attached to one of the 35mm film photos that I took. Obviously this is a case of paid work so I went ahead and made the requested adjustments, but it really got me thinking….

I am a photographer who captures real moments that exist in front of my eyes. The fact that the vast majority of my photography is some form of street photography means that these are moments that happen in front of not just my eyes, but the eyes of hundreds or thousands of people everyday. I am not a painter, creating imagery on canvas that only exists in my mind. While we can argue to what degree the scenes that I capture depict reality and how they are presented further affect the narrative, if there is a store with its gate down because it went out of business in my photo I think we can all agree that it’s highly likely that it’s a store that’s out of business.

Yes, New York City has many beautiful sights. It has a beautiful skyline, beautiful bridges, beautiful parks, etc. But for every fucking derivative copy-cat photo of the Manhattan Bridge from DUMBO, there are a million photos of graffiti on walls, buildings in disrepair, homeless people on the street, bustling outdoor markets, people waiting for a subway, etc. The real New York City is not the shit that you see in post cards. It’s the fucking Halal stand underneath the 7 Train. It’s the guy walking down a row of cars stopped at a red light asking for spare change. It’s some dumbass kid doing his little hat/pole dance on a moving subway car. It’s people buying fake Prada bags from some shady street vendor with a cardboard sign. It’s a crowded subway platform filled with sweaty people that look miserable after a day of work and just want to get the fuck home. The New York City that most New Yorkers experience is not the well-manicured greenery of Central or Prospect park. It’s not the pinks and purples blanketing the beautiful Manhattan skyline. New York City is people often cramming themselves into dirty century-old apartments, being dwarfed by gigantic gray buildings, being surrounded by blinking lights and tacky advertising, and endless construction sites. For others, it’s living on a residential street not unlike plenty of featureless suburbs with plenty of parking and not an ounce of character to distinguish it as anything close to what comes to mind when people think of the city.

So if my photography in this city is depressing and it’s nothing but a reflection of things that we walk by everyday, maybe the problem isn’t my photography, but the city that I’m photographing. Or maybe, it’s depressing because the reality of our city doesn’t match the glamorous image that most people have of it. To me, New York City is not glamorous and beautiful nor is it dark and depressing. It just is… No, I don’t find East New York to be a particularly pleasant place to walk around, but it’s no less a part of our city than the Upper East Side. The thing is that I’m a lazy person by nature so I just photograph the shit that I see. I can’t be bothered to fabricate something that isn’t there for me. I don’t live in Central Park. I live near Jamaica Avenue. I don’t drive down Madison Avenue. I drive down Queens Boulevard. I don’t visit Prospect Park. My travels take me to Nostrand Avenue. So I’ll take my photos in color, but fuck if I’m going to run around taking pictures of a city that, for me, doesn’t exist.

So fuck people, fuck their opinions, and fuck their ideals… because people are fucking twisted and have lost sense of reality, whether it’s the reality of themselves or the reality of their environment. Be honest with yourself and accept the honesty of others. Maybe when we stop being a species of fake Ken and Barbie dolls, we’ll start being human again.

Apparently a really depressing image. | #thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter  © 2018 Michael Jin. All Rights Reserved.

Apparently a really depressing image. | #thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter

© 2018 Michael Jin. All Rights Reserved.

Me and Mother Fucking Nature by Michael Jin

© 2018 Michael Jin

I'm not a morning person. I'm also not really a "nature" person. Don't get me wrong. I heart the environment and all, but I'm generally most comfortable with my feet on pavement and the elements outside some sort of barrier that I can choose to close.

For some stupid reason, I decided to wake up at 5AM to go out and shoot photos. It appears that Mother Nature might be hinting at me to just sleep in and leave photographic the pretty stuff for all of the people that actually appreciate getting up early in the morning to see it.

Anyway, the sunrise shot that I was thinking of wasn't looking like it was going to work so I turned my camera is the other direction and this is pretty much the fruit of my effort. Yeah... Should have stayed in bed.


Lesson of the day: Before you decide to wake up at some ungodly hour to go out and take photos, check a fucking weather app.

Thought of the day: Sunsets and sunrises look the same... maybe I should move to the West Coast...

Struggling with Depression, Anxiety, and Low Self-Esteem as a Photographer by Michael Jin

© 2018 Michael Jin — Ilford HP5+ 35mm Developed in Rodinal 1+50

A while back, my wife asked me why I never submit any of my images to gallery exhibits at my school. I certainly believe that while my work may not "wow" anyone, it doesn't really fall short when compared to the peers that I've had in my photo classes so far. My response was to put on a bit of an arrogant act and say that I felt that it would be a waste of my time (I do actually believe this, but for different reasons.) because I don't care what anyone in school thinks of my work anyway. In truth, however, the bigger reason is that I seriously struggle with low self-esteem and I tend to be my own harshest critic. Couple this with fear of failure or fear of rejection, and the thought of displaying my work for others to see fills me with complete dread. This dread and anxiety is one of the reasons that it took me this long to even create this website for myself and if I'm honest, I feel that it helps to know that nobody is really visiting it.

A while back, I wrote an entry about Impostor Syndrome and it's something that I do suffer from a lot. The fact that I suffer from clinical depression probably doesn't help the cause either because I have a tendency to get stuck in some deep ruts that either hinder or outright derail my efforts at consistently producing work. These are the times I tend to spend on the web endlessly reading articles or tutorials about this or that—all the while lying to myself that I'm just looking for new techniques or inspiration.

© 2018 Michael Jin

For those that suffer from these issues, the grind to be productive is very real. Once I get into the swing of things, it tends to be fine, but building that initial momentum up is incredibly difficult. One thing that I think helps this somewhat is picking up my Nikon FM2n.

I know tons of people talk about how shooting film forces them to slow down or some shit like that. For me, shooting film is not about slowing down so much as it's about being able to shoot and avoid the instant feedback loop. I can shoot a roll of film and develop it a month later. I'm not constantly looking at the back of my LCD screen and scolding myself for producing shit photos while I'm out there. It lets me just enjoy the process without worrying too much about the results. Yeah, the vast majority of them do suck, but I can deal with that when I'm in a better state of mind. For me, it's just building up the routine of going out and pushing frames.

 

© 2018 Michael Jin   |   Adox CHS 100 II Developed in XTOL 1+0

It could just be shooting random scenes on my commute or walking around my block or something. Regardless of what ends up on the negative, I can definitely say that it helps. Of course while I'm shooting I try to take it seriously, whether it's people standing around waiting for a subway or a random flower in someone's garden. I'm not saying that a person should just go out and waste film just for the sake of wasting it, but just loosen up a little and allow yourself to enjoy the craft without the burden of results. If you can do it with digital, then great. For me, the temptation to look at the back of that LCD is just too great so I turn to film. Besides, the development process really is it's own therapy for me as well.

This was a bit of a ramble on my part, but if there is anyone out there who suffers from depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, I do encourage you to find a way to change the mentality with which you go out to shoot. It's not like you have to show anyone the results anyway.

For me, I think the next hurdle really will be to create some prints and put them out for people to see—not just people that I know, but complete strangers. I enrolled for Advanced Photography this coming semester and it seems like at least some of the students' work ends up on the bulletin boards in the hallways so it's entirely possible that I might just not have a choice in the matter. Regardless, it would be a nice step to be able to do something like this of my own volition. Maybe I'll enter a photo or two when I see the flyers asking for submissions... How bad can it be, right?

© 2018 Michael Jin   |   Adox CHS 100 II Developed in XTOL 1+0

Test and Review of the Nikon ES-2 Adapter Set w/ Nikon D850 and Nikon Micro NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AI-S Lens on Ferrania P30 by Michael Jin

I came home tonight to find a box from B&H waiting for me. I was very confused at first because I don't recall having ordered anything from them in the past week. Upon opening the box, however, I discovered that my Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter Set had finally arrived! I had pre-ordered this thing a while ago! What a pleasant surprise!

Before I go further, however, I would like to bring attention to something.

This is the box right after opening.

This is the box right after opening.

This is the box with all of that air shit removed...

This is the box with all of that air shit removed...

What. The. Fuck?

Anyway, without getting into a whole thing about unnecessarily large packages, the contents are pretty straight forward. There is the ES-2 Adapter itself, which serves to hold the film carrier in place in front of your lens with a piece of plastic on the opposite side to diffuse any light so that you get even illumination.

The ES-2 Adapter can also telescope back and forth, allowing you to adjust the distance of the negative carrier to your lens. This is a pretty important feature as it lets you essentially set your lens to focus for 1:1 reproduction and then adjust your adapter itself to come into proper focus. The ES-2 Adapter has a 52mm thread diameter, meaning that it will mount directly onto any vintage Nikon macro lens that has a 52mm filter thread such as the Nikon Micro NIKKOR 55mm f/2.9 AI-S which I intended to use.

In the box are also two adapters that convert that 52mm thread to 62mm in order to mount onto Nikon's newer 60mm lenses. Depending on which version of the 60mm lens you own, you will have to use the corresponding adapter due to the different minimum focusing distances. There are also two negative carriers. One is a two-slot carrier for 35mm slides, which I will not be testing as I do not have any slides and the other is a 6-slot carrier for 35mm negative strips.

 

This is pretty much everything that comes in the box minus the bubble wrap.

This is pretty much everything that comes in the box minus the bubble wrap.

One thing that doesn't come in the box, quite obviously, is a light source. You have to provide that yourself. I've seen some people use flashes, but I prefer the continuous light of a light pad or light box. Since I was already set up for digitizing negatives, I decided to use the light pad that I already owned.

Here is the set-up I used. Basically a copy stand and a light pad. You don't actually need either of these things, but I used them just because I happen to have them.

Here is the set-up I used. Basically a copy stand and a light pad. You don't actually need either of these things, but I used them just because I happen to have them.

As I mentioned before, the lens that I own is a Nikon Micro NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AI-S. It's a pretty old manual focus lens, but when it comes to macro photography manual focus is just fine more often than not and the optics of the lens seem fine so I didn't feel a need to upgrade. The only real weakness of using this lens or any other of Nikon's 55mm lenses is the fact that the maximum reproduction ratio is 1:2 so I used a Nikon PK-13 extension tube to allow the lens to reach a 1:1 reproduction ratio.

After initially attaching the adapter directly to the lens, I felt that it needed a little more distance so I also added a Nikon K4 extension between the lens and the ES-2 adapter to make the whole thing work to my satisfaction. Enough about the setup, though. It's results that you really want to see, right?

Since I wanted to test not only the adapter, but really put the old Nikon lens to the test on my Nikon D850’s sensor, I decided to use some Ferrania P30 film that I developed in Kodak HC-110 (Dilution B). It's about the finest grain film that I have that isn't Ilford Pan F+, but I couldn't find an image taken on Pan F+ that I was willing to put out into public for this review. I will go take some later, but for now, Ferrania P30 will have to suffice. I also decided to do two tests. The first test was with the Nikon D850's built-in "Digitizing" function, which automatically spits out a JPEG image and the second test was to take a straight RAW shot and process it in Adobe Lightroom.

Without further ado, here are the results.

Image straight out of the D850 using the built-in "Digitizing Mode"

Image processed from RAW file taken with the D850

So obviously there are some stylistic differences right off the bat, but I can say that I'm not incredibly fond of Nikon's built-in "Negative Digitizer” Mode both in the fact that you can only get a JPEG from it—they should have very least allowed it to produce TIFF files—and the fact that it seems to produce a very flat image out of camera that most people will probably want to process in some manner. Doing so with a lossy JPEG format, however, will result in degradation of quality so I would highly recommend that you just ignore the automatic function on the D850 (at least for black and white film) and shoot RAW to process the images to your own tastes.

Obviously, the files on Squarespace are compressed and won't do justice here so below are the full files that you can examine yourself. I've provided both JPEG files, the NEF file from the D850, and also a DNG file for those of you who might not be able to process D850 NEF files. You can fiddle with the files as you please, examine them as you please, and draw your own conclusions.

JPEG from Nikon D850 "Negative Digitizer" Mode

JPEG processed from RAW file.

NEF from the Nikon D850

DNG File converted from Nikon D850 NEF via Adobe Lightroom

 

Conclusion

In truth, the Nikon ES-2 adapter is just a thing that goes in front of a lens. It has no intrinsic ability to do anything nor is there anything that would suggest that it is only compatible with Nikon cameras. Theoretically, with the right combination of adapters and extension tubes, anyone with a macro lens should be able to use this with any camera system.

Obviously doing so will require you to shoot in RAW and process the files manually, but I believe this will lead to the best results anyway as I found nothing special about the Nikon D850's built-in "Negative Digitizer” Mode that would warrant going out and purchasing a D850 just to use this adapter.

The quality of the resulting file will be entirely dependent on your camera's megapixel count, its dynamic range, and your lens's ability to resolve detail so in this sense, I would try to use a high megapixel camera and the best optics possible to get the most out of this system.

All in all, the ES-2 is pretty well designed and it makes digitizing 35mm film so much easier and quicker than scanning or using a DIY solution. Is it worth the price? I guess it depends on how much film you have to digitize and how much the convenience of the ES-2 is worth to you.

As for the lens, I think that the old 55mm f/2.8 AIS performed pretty admirably and I'm not really sure if the newer 60mm G-series lens would have resolved more. Given the price difference between the two lenses, I would say save yourself a couple hundred bucks and pick up the older lens, but that's just me.

I hope this little test and the files above will help you in making a decision as to whether the ES-2 is right for you. I wish I could have done it with a more modern lens and also tested some slides, but I guess I'll have to leave that to other people who have these things.


*UPDATE 07/24/2018

I got around to doing a quick test on Ilford Pan F+ that was developed in Rodinal 1+50. I wanted to not only test the ability to resolve granular detail, but since this was an exposure with a good amount of dynamic range, I thought I'd also do a 9-Exposure HDR capture of the negative.

JPEG (D850 In-Camera Conversion)

Original NEF File from D850

DNG File from D850 (Converted in Lightroom after Tone Curve Inversion)

9-Exposure HDR DNG File from D850 (Exported after Tone Curve Inversion)


*UPDATE 08/19/2018

Since the last two files were from fairly high contrast negatives, I'm adding a DNG file from something with more subtle tonal values. This is Adox CHS II 100 developed in Kodak XTOL (Stock).

DNG File from D850 (Converted in Lightroom after Tone Curve Inversion)

Enjoy!

What If I Have Nothing To Say With My Photography? by Michael Jin

© 2018 Michael Jin. All Rights Reserved.

I was recently listening to Episode #1096 of LensWork Podcast and the host, Brooks Jensen mentioned someone that he knew that had poured so much of his life mastering the craft of taking photos and turning them into beautiful prints. Mind you, this was back in the days of the wet darkroom where creating a print wasn't just a matter of hitting CTRL+P (or CMD+P for you Mac users out there) after doing some edits in Lightroom or Photoshop.

As someone that is still in the early stages of learning how to print in the wet darkroom, I can relate to the frustrations of trying to produce amazing prints. Not only is there a mountain of knowledge to absorb about the different films, papers, chemicals, temperatures, interactions, etc. but there's the physical component that you simply do not have in digital photography. Once you have done all of the tests and determined that you need to expose your paper for 20 seconds, the game is on the moment you hit that timer switch and you need the dexterity and coordination to perform all of your dodges within those 20 seconds. Once you've determined your burning times after that, you need to hit that light and be able to skillfully maneuver your burn cards to hit the areas you want for the duration you want without fucking up the rest of the image that you've gone out of your way to properly expose. Quite frankly, for something that suffers from anxiety such as myself (and takes medication for it), it's pretty stressful because one point of failure can mean that you've just wasted time, paper, and chemistry. There is no UNDO button or History Module that you can go back to. A fuck up effectively means nearly starting over from scratch. Then after all that, you get to developing the paper in the chemistry and I'm sure you can image that's another beast to wrestle with. I think a large part of why I am able to do it is simply because I am, by nature, not a super particular person and for my personal work that I don't intend for others' eyes, I'm OK with a print that isn't meticulously worked to perfection.

As I was listening to Brooks talk about this person—let's just call him Bob—I could empathize with the struggle and what it must feel like to finally master the entire craft to the point where one could produce a pre-visualized result on a consistent basis. Then came the big hit out of nowhere. Brooks talked about how once Bob got to this phase in life, he (Bob) just quit photography completely...

WHAT!? Are you fucking kidding me? That should be where you photography BEGINS, not where it ENDS! Up until that point, you're just dicking around doing the best that you can and trying to get the best results that you can, but isn't it precisely when the barrier of technical mastery is no longer a limitation that you ought to be free to finally bring your vision to life? I guess Brooks felt the way I did upon hearing this and asked Bob why he would choose that point to quit. Bob's response struck me in a way that simply froze me up. Paraphrasing just wouldn't do it justice so I replayed the episode to transcribe this part of the podcast exactly:

"... and I asked him why he had walked away from this craft that he had so exquisitely developed, and he explained to me quite simply that after he had established the skills and the ability to make a print pretty much at will, he realized that he had nothing to say and therefore all of that technological challenge was meaningless..."

FUCK... That's the word that immediately came to my mind. You see, I have a tendency to get so caught up in everything else about photography that I tend to pay little mind to WHY it is I do what I do and WHAT it is that I'm trying to put out into the world. Sure, I have my personal projects that I'm working on and on some level, they do feel a bit contrived if I'm to be honest. Of my projects, the one about Queens is definitely the one that's closest to my heart, but more than anything, my personal projects exist to give me focus as I'm developing my craft rather than serve as something that I feel is contributing to the world in a meaningful way. It has become so easy to walk around searching for interesting scenes, getting lost in the little details of my projects, culling photos, learning new techniques, and buying more books on photography to glean more information from. In short, the complex nature of the craft makes it extremely easy to take a myopic view, focusing on all of the little details, while completely ignoring the greater picture and the question of purpose.

What does my photography say? What do I intend for it to say? What if, after all of this, I find that I have nothing meaningful to say through my photographs? I won't go so far as to say that it has all been meaningless because I am obviously deriving some joy and therapeutic benefits from practicing it. At the same time, however, I do have this desire to create things that speak to people—not in a manipulative way, but in a way that conveys honesty and truth. I'm not sure how capable I am of saying something that hasn't been said a million times before, but I feel that there must be something about my unique human experience that can edify the global discussion in some manner.

Maybe some of this is my own frustration with myself from dealing with depression and whatever the photographer's version of "writer's block" may be. Despite living in one of the great cities of the world—a city that's ever changing and host to millions of untold stories—I have just been very confused and uninspired as of late. I'm still pushing frames, but I haven't felt that spark of excitement when I feel like I've captured something truly special or something that speaks to me. If feels really wrong to be able to live here and struggle like this to find that spark of inspiration. I guess why this story hit me pretty hard. Maybe my inability to find something to say in the midst of all of this is just evidence that I just don't have anything within me worth sharing.

For now, it's something I'm working through and there's at least the continued journey toward mastering the technical elements of the craft that can serve as a motivator while I ruminate on this greater question. I'm hoping to add more photos to the projects on the website by summer's end and I'll also be looking to replace a few of them with what I hope will be stronger images. In the meantime, thanks to the few of you that have seen the website and had encouraging words, it means a lot to me.