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In The Frame: Photographer Dave Hill on His Book "Barstow" and Shooting Film on Commercial Jobs

In The Frame: Photographer Dave Hill on His Book "Barstow" and Shooting Film on Commercial Jobs

From Dave Hill's book,

For many photographers with commercial aspirations, one of the names that will invariably come up as a source of inspiration is Dave Hill.

Earlier on in his career, he was known for creating complex, high-concept composite images with digital photography and Photoshop, with which he became synonymous.

His personal work harkens back to something much simpler--most of the personal images he shares on his site and social channels seem to be shot with his Leica M6.

More recently, we have gone behind the scenes with Dave on big commercial jobs he shot on film, such as for Honda and Jeep (watch those Behind the scenes videos--seriously, we'll wait), and quiet lifestyle images using only natural light.

He's obviously been very busy shooting commercial jobs--and that he has been able to convince art buyers at such high levels to approve campaigns to be shot with film is nothing short of amazing today.

But late last year, he quietly launched a book of his personal medium format film work chronicling his travels through the city of Barstow, CA. It is a quiet book full of revealing images and moments of peoples' lives in a small town. Dave took a few minutes to tell us about the book.

Tell us about yourself and your commercial work

My name’s Dave Hill. I’m from Carlsbad, CA and now live in Los Angeles with my wife and 15month old daughter.  I got my start in photography in high school in the 90’s, shooting my friends skating and snowboarding.  I went to UCLA for History and they had an amazing daily newspaper.  I joined freshman year as an intern.  We had to roll, process, and scan all of our own film, mostly TRI-X 400.  The UCLA newspaper is were I really learned how to approach people without fear.  It was a wild time. I became the Photo Editor my senior year in 2000.  I got to spend our entire photo equipment budget that year on the new Nikon D1, so I had a very early start in digital.

That led me to spend the next 4 years after college really getting into Photoshop and compositing and creating worlds.  I was also in a punk band at the time and started shooting a ton of music groups.  No one was really compositing in the music scene yet, so I started to get meetings and attention from bigger artists and labels.  From there, it led to a bunch of rappers and lots of CD packages, and then eventually, into the advertising world.

The entire time, though, I was regretting my obsession with Photoshop and really yearning to get back out and just shoot film with natural light.  My longest break in shooting film was from 2003-2005.  After those couple years of gaining weight and living in Photoshop, I bought my first Leica M6 and 35mm f2 lens on Craigslist.  That was my first film cam purchase since my Nikon N70 is 1998!

So it’s taken me about 10 years from when I got that Leica, to now being finally hired for some natural light commercial jobs.  It was really, REALLY tough to break out of the compositing world.  At some point, I just had to accept loosing the bigger budgets and retouching fees and just go for it.  The past few years I’ve really been trying to push film and at least non-composite lifestyle images to all my clients.  It’s been a tough trying to impress anyone these days.

The bonus from my lack of Photoshop time has been more exploration back into street photography. I used to love shooting street and journalism stuff in college and the past 1-2 years, I’ve been taking random weekends off, documenting areas that fascinate me.

From Dave Hill's book,


Your book "Barstow" is quite a departure from you commercial work. What is the motivation for it?

I love the desert.  I always have.  My dad used to take us camping to Anza-Borrego in East San Diego camping.  We’d go dirt biking, shoot guns, bond with my brothers.  It was awesome.  We’d pass lots of random towns, including Barstow, from time to time.  

As an adult, I’ve passed through Barstow on the way to Vegas like everyone else, but always had a fascination with it.  My wife is awesome and a few times, we were bored in LA and decided to drive to Barstow, watch a movie at the little ghetto theater in town, and stay at the Ramada. It’s an experience.  After doing that a couple times, I really wanted to explore the down more.

My wife had a baby shower weekend and I knew that was my chance.  I packed up my iPhone and just my Mamiya 7 and 80mm lens and headed to Barstow.  I spent the next two days walking around the city, getting yelled at and getting called a pervert.  I found Barstow to be a really rough town.  People didn’t respond well to me walking through their neighborhoods.  I’m still fascinated why people would live in a desert town like Barstow.

Shed some light on the creation of the book

My edit was really focused on people.  Sure, there were some cool/depressing old buildings out there, but I wanted to include as much of the people as possible.  It was hard to toss out some of the landscapes, but I felt like my strength was how I approached the people.

I had it printed at A&I here in North Hollywood.  I did a test of the bigger on-demand printers and A&I’s paper really kicked everyone else’s butt.  They are a little pricey, but I felt it was worth it. I only did an initial run of 50 copies and still have a few left for sale.  I feel like I’d have to sell 200-500 copies to actually make any money.  With a run of 50, I actually lost money when selling the book for $30, but I did it more for art’s sake, and really wanted people to have the book in their hands, whatever it took.  In the future, it might be nice to go big, print more, and make a profit!

Why did you choose to shoot this project using film?

Film was a no-brainer for me. Film looks better than digital, hands-down.  The colors are unbeatable, no matter your Photoshop skill level.  I shoot all my street and personal stuff on film.  With projects like this Barstow book, I shoot so slow anyway, it’s not like I’m blowing through a ton of rolls. Call me silly, but I feel like when I shoot a photo on a negative, I’ve really created something. With digital, it feels like a robot just collecting data.

From Dave Hill's book,

Do you plan to use film for any commercial work in the future, if you haven't already done so? (Editor's Note: I asked this question before his amazing Honda and Jeep behind-the-scenes videos came out!)

Yes!  I’ve been spending extra money to have a camera-man come along on recent commercial car jobs, capturing the experience of shooting film.  These videos have been getting a little attention in the photo world online, but my primary goal was to be able to show art buyers, who are always a little skeptical, that film on a commercial job isn’t stressful, but can be just a simple part of the workflow. Film doesn’t need to mean HOLGA/blurry/artsy/grainy/window-light nudes. Film can mean commercial shots in high-res,  with beautiful colors and skin tones.

A huge thanks to Dave Hill for talking to us and helping to keep film alive and a viable option in the commercial world! Please check out Dave's website and Social profiles below, and make sure to pick up a copy of "Barstow" while you still can.

www.davehillphoto.com
instagram.com/davehillphoto
davehillphoto.tumblr.com

Link to Barstow Book - now only $15! :-)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0990786706

VIDEO Gear Review: Rollei AFM35 35mm Point & Shoot Film Camera

 

The short story: high quality 35mm point and shoot camera with a sharp lens and Rollei's HFT lens coating.

The long story: A small point and shoot released in the 90s that, at the time, competed with the likes of the Contax T2. It weights about 9 ounces, it has a more curved grip than the Contax T2. This camera is actually designed by Fujifilm, and is absolutely structurally identical to the original Fujifilm Klasse (not the Klasse S or Klasse W). It is, in essence, a rebranded Fuji camera. The one difference: it uses Rollei's HFT coating on the lens, instead of Fujifilm's EBC coating. Rollei's HFT coating is said to be the same as Zeiss' highly regarded T* coating.

The lens is a 38mm focal length slightly wider than "normal," but not that wide. Max aperture is f/2.6, slightly faster than most of the fastest point and shoots with models like the Olympus MJU II/Stylus Epic and the Contax T2 being f/2.8. Minimum focus distance is 15.7 inches. Shooting modes are Program Auto (the camera chooses both the aperture and shutter values--full auto, basically) or Aperture Priority, where you choose the Aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed. Reads DX code from 35mm film cassettes and sets ISO accordingly, from anywhere between ISO 50 and 3200.

There is no way to manually override the film speed like you can on the newer Klasse S and Klasse W, so if you want to do push/pull processing or want to shoot at lower-rated ISOs with your stock of expired film, you're out of luck. It  has a built-in flash with a guide number of 11. Meter is very accurate, as are most point and shoots from the 90s. Flash has a red-eye reduction mode. Highest shutter speed is 1/1000th of a second. It DOES NOT have an exposure compensation function; instead, it has a +/- half-stop or full-stop bracketing feature, where the camera takes three pictures total: 1 picture at the proper exposure, one picture below, and one picture above.

I was originally put off by this because I like using exposure compensation. I realized with color negative, there is so much latitude that it doesn't matter much to me in practical use. I've never used (and probably never will use) the bracketing feature. It uses a CR2 battery. For my point and shoot of choice (for now at least), I chose this over a Contax T2. I owned both for several months, and I wanted to go with the highly loved and appreciated T2, especially because it has exposure compensation. I had a LOT of trouble focusing the T2. About 1 in 5 pictures were mis-focused or back-focused. I thought something was wrong with my camera so I bought another--same problem. I talked to a couple friends that had T2s and I asked them if they had issues--they both replied with a resounding "YES," that they had issues with a lot of pictures being out of focus, and they both independently remarked that they felt like maybe was something wrong with their cameras, or that maybe people just didn't want to talk trash about the T2 because it's such a well-loved camera.

Don't let this turn you off getting a Contax T2 if that's what you want--by all means, try one, because you might love it. Take everything I say with a grain of salt because sometimes I don't know what I'm doing (that was for you Contax lovers; I said it for you so you don't have to!). By the way, I really loved the T2. Very much. I just didn't like the out-of-focus pictures I sometimes got. But I digress. I ended up selling this Rollei in favor of the T2, and frustration with the T2 made me sell that camera and I ended up getting the Rollei again. I decided I could live without exposure compensation. My one nitpick outside of the lack of exposure compensation: the lens assembly moves into place and locks focus on the half-press after a split-second delay, as opposed to other point and shoots like the MJU II/Stylus Epic where the lens does its focus move after a full press (inevitably causing shutter lag). However, after locking focus on the half-press, there is absolutely NO delay from between when you do the full-press to when the shutter opens. You could call it a quirk or an advantage (or both), but after getting used to it, it is nice to be able to have essentially no shutter lag as long as your focus is already locked.

Overall and fun camera to use. It's very sturdy and definitely nice looking. The silver color might be too bright for some people, but you can get the original Fujifilm Klasse in silver OR black. This is not a camera you hear a whole lot about, but it fits right in there in the lexicon of high end film point and shoots. The newer Klasse models have more features and custom functions, but naturally command a much higher price. Thanks for reading! Please visit the shop to help support this site.

Keep 35 Alive Embroidered Patch Now In Stock

Check it out! Shipping to every corner of planet Earth, and just in time for summer, let's help keep 35 alive with this custom embroidered patch!

These make a great addition to your  camera bag, jacket, or hat. They have an iron-on heat seal backing.

Get one for yourself or get one as a gift for the film photographer you love!

Gear Review: Konica C35 AF2 35mm Autofocus Film Camera

The Konica C35 AF2 is the successor to the original C35 AF, history's first production autofocus camera. It uses the "Visitronic" passive autofocus system invented by Honeywell, which detects contrast inside the autofocus frame to achieve optimum focus--to put it simply. There's a lot of other science-y talk about it all over the internet so you can find that stuff elsewhere if you're interested.

The main difference between the original AF and the AF2 are said to be only cosmetic, and in use that seems to be largely true. The lens is a 38mm f/2.8, with a programed leaf shutter using three speeds: 1/60, 1/125, and 1/250. Exposure is fully automatic, and ISO sensitivities range from ISO 25 to 400. ISO speeds are set by turning a ring on the front assembly of the lens, and the set ISO speed will show in a small window at the bottom of the lens. The nice thing about being able to set ISO manually is that you can manually rate films differently from their DX codings.

Other more modern cameras will rate film automatically based on their DX codes--the silver/black patterns on the film cassettes. This can be useful if you're shooting with expired film, as I did in this test. I shot a roll of Kodak Max 400 expired in 2004--11 years beyond it's expiration date. The general rule is to overexpose one extra stop over the film's box speed to compensate for loss of sensitivity for every 10 years past its expiration date. So even though the film is rated at 400, I manually rated it at 200, and the results came out great. The negatives are a bit more grainy than fresh film, but this is to be expected with expired film.

The viewfinder has brightlines, and features an underexposure warning light (a red light visible in the upper right hand corner of the frame), parallax correction lines to correct for subjects that are closer than 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) It has a flash that is activated by a switch that pops up the the flash unit. Turning off the flash is as easy as popping the flash back down into place. The Guide Number of the flash is 14.

For some reason there is a warning inside the battery compartment warning against use of rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries, although when I tested the camera, I used rechargeable Ni-Mh batteries which seemed to work fine. I guess use Alkalines to be safe, and Alkalines will recycle the flash faster anyway. There is a self timer. It's about 14 seconds long. Not much more to say about that. So the exposure is automatic, the focus is automatic, and the two things keeping this from being a fully automated camera are the manually-set ISO speeds (discussed above) and the film advance and rewind mechanisms. The film is advanced by the classic lever that sits in the top corner of the camera that you ratchet with you right hand thumb. I personally love the tactile feel of manually advancing film. The lever is metal and feels sturdy, not like it's going to snap off when you ratchet it. The film chamber door is opened by a switch on the door with an indicator arrow of the direction to push the switch--simple.

Cosmetically unique in this camera is the film rewind lever--it doesn't have the protruding "wheel" dial as seen on many cameras with a manual rewind--the lever is recessed into the body and flips out to be turned when you're finished with the roll. It makes the top profile of the camera look fairly sleek, as far as late 70's design goes. The flash exposure works quite well, and I shot a few flash pictures that exposed nicely. Despite being new technology in it's day, the autofocus works quickly and accurately.

My one main nitpick about the camera is that there is no focus lock feature--you can't grab focus on something then recompose the frame. Focus will always been on what is inside the center autofocus frame. I show a picture in the test gallery that shows the background is in critical focus--but my daughter in the foreground, who is not centered in the frame, is slightly out of focus. It was daylight and the camera used a fairly small aperture, so most of the shot was in fair focus, but you can still tell where the camera chose to focus right in the center of the frame. The camera I found came with a full leatherette fitted two-piece case and was in great condition, overall a very nice thrift store find. It's fun to use and for folks interested in the history of what is, these days, technology that we take for granted like autofocus, it's a nice piece to have in the collection.

Gear Review: Minolta XE-5 35mm Film SLR

The Minolta XE-5 is a 35mm film SLR that uses Minolta's manual focus SR mount, also commonly known as the MC mount, or simply the "Minolta mount." It is the same mount used by the famous SRT-type cameras and also the XE/XE-1/XG-7 series. The system was generally referred to as the MC system, with a whole range of compatible bodies, lenses, and accessories. First, a little about the original XE-1, which was the original in the line and the descendent of the XE-5. The XE was the first electronically controlled Minolta SLR that was targeted for advanced amateurs. It features metered manual and aperture priority shooting modes. Perhaps the most interesting part of the the XE heritage is that it is the first SLR that Minolta designed and produced in association with Leitz, the maker of Leica cameras. The XE-5 carries on most of these features, but since it is a lower end model than the original XE-1, there are some features that don't carry over. The viewfinder does not display the current aperture and shutter speed settings; there is merely a needle that shows the suggested shutter speed to which you should set the camera to depending on the your ISO and aperture setting. The focusing is achieved through a diagonal split prism.

Minolta XE-5 viewfinder

Minolta XE-5 viewfinder

Unlike the XE-1, there is no viewfinder curtain, double exposure lever, and no safe load "flag" that shows proper film advance, although you can see the rewind lever spinning when you advance the film, telling you that the film is in fact advancing and being taken up on the take-up spool, so that's a fairly minor concern. The pentaprism housing (the SLR "bump" on top of the camera) is all black, unlike the black/chrome prism housing of the XE-1. The front panel features a self timer lever, an X-sync flash socket, a locking depth of field preview button, and the lens release button. The "Minolta" logo is engraved and painted white onto the front of the black plastic pentaprism housing. The XE-5 badge is engraved and painted black onto the upper chrome portion to the left of the Minolta logo. The grip is a stiff, slightly rubbery material. The top panel has a hot shoe, rewind crank, underneath which is the ISO dial with a locking pin (labeled "ASA"), which ranges from 12 to 3200, in 1/3 stop increments. On the same dial is the +/- exposure compensation dial, also with a locking pin, ranging from -2 to +2 in single stop increments. On the right hand side of the top panel is the shutter speed dial, including X, Bulb, and 4 seconds all the way to 1/1000th of a second in one stop increments. There is also the shutter release button with a threading for a remote release cord and the familiar film advance lever.

DSCF6800 Minolta XE-5, top plate

The rear of the camera has an on/off lever. The camera will not fire in the off position, as the shutter is electronically controlled and cannot fire without battery power. So that means dead batteries = dead camera. There is also a frame counter which goes up to 36 and stops if you have any more frames on the roll. You can still keep taking pictures, but the frame counter won't go any higher than 36. The left side profile of the camera has a tiny little lever that is easy to miss, which is a battery check lever. When you activate it, there is a red LED that lights up to let you know the battery is functioning.

DSCF6799

One particularly convenient feature about this film camera is that it uses the very common LR44 batteries (two of them), which can be found in any grocery or drug store for very inexpensively, or online for even cheaper. You can generally buy 10 of them for just a few dollars. Many older generation cameras use battery types that are either expensive or worse, no longer available. The camera is not exactly light. While not as heavy and considered more compact than the professional level Canons and Nikons of the day, it's still larger and heavier than the similarly priced and competing Olympus OM cameras. However, it is still very comfortable in the hand. The rewind lever is nice and smooth, with a somewhat long throw distance, but still advances the frame in a single stroke. The mirror slap is nicely dampened as the entire body is nice and solid. The shutter button depresses very smoothly in one motion; it does not have a half-press function to activate metering. The camera is always metering as long as the power switch is in the "on" position.

Personal experience

The camera is solid feeling, and I felt very confident in its operation in the few rolls I shot with it. The lens I had for it was a bit of an odd focal length: 58mm, but it had a very nice fast aperture of f/1.4. The lens is not particularly sharp at wide open apertures but by f/2.8 it was sharp and contrasty. Because of it's somewhat long focal length, it can be susceptible to some user misfocusing at wide open apertures if you use the focus/recompose method, which can change the plane of focus, so you have to be careful with that if you're shooting fast. The camera feels really good to me, something I'd be happy to use as an everyday shooter if it was my only choice. If I had owned more lenses in the system, I would most definitely keep it, as the example I had was in very nice cosmetic shape. I certainly wish I had some wider lenses to test with it. The meter was accurate and I shot half of the roll using the built in meter, and the other half using a handheld Sekonic meter, both of which yielded fine results. Like many manual 35mm film SLRs, the appeal with this camera is the fact that you have so few choices in how you expose a picture. Shutter, aperture, and film speed--that's it. I found that this lack of choice kept me in tune with the subjects I was shooting and the shooting experience itself, and not so worried and engaged (or distracted) by the gear in my hands. I feel that the single biggest drawback this camera suffers from is that, due to it's electronically controlled shutter, it cannot be fired without batteries, like other film SLRs that can fired mechanically and only need batteries for metering (the Yashica FX-3, for example). It's construction feels hefty and durable, despite the fact that the top pentaprism housing is plastic. I would highly recommend this camera to anyone who is looking for a manual SLR, with an aperture priority mode. It certainly fetches a far lower price than Canon and Nikon models of the same level in used markets, because Minolta was simply a less popular manufacturer in the 70s and 80s, but no less of a viable option then as it is today when it comes to 35mm manual focus SLRs. Sample images below. Shot on Kodak 5279 500T color cinema film, scanned on a Pakon F135 film scanner.

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner