Shooting slide film – brilliance meets insanity

When Kodak re-introduced Ektachrome I was “all-in” since as a young photographer I exclusively shot slide film. As stated before I very much preferred Kodachrome over Ektachrome back in the days, but I had to give it a try when this new old filmstock was finally available here in Germany. My first experience was a mixed one (see post “Ektachrome – finally”), but I played with filters and ISO when shooting the next roles and it seems that pushing the film one stop and using a warming filter sucessfully counterbalances the film’s blueish to greenish tint when shot in overcast light conditions. I first learned about this in a vlog on Hashem McAdam’s Youtube channel “Pushing Film”, where he even compared his results with the old Kodachrome color palette.

Slide film having a rather narrow dynamic range needs careful metering and for all other Ektachrome roles I used my trusty Nikon F90x, which offers matrix metering. Let’s take a closer look at one of the shots I got with this camera and a 85mm prime lens.

Autumn leaves

It was an overcast day in autumn and the floor of my local woodland was covered in leaves, which ranged from bright yellow through orange to dark brown in color. I used intentional camera movement and a rather slow shutter speed to blur the leaves producing soft streams of autumnal colors across the frame. The result is a beautiful abstract image representing the season. The warming filter obviously did its job, the colors are vibrant and a very authentic representation of what I saw when walking through the forest. So, it’s all fine and dandy, you think? I know how to shoot this film now, and brilliant results galore are to be expected on the horizon? Not quite! Technically I would say yes that’s possible, but there is a tiny problem: the insane price of the film. For one roll of Ektachrome you have to pay a little over 21,- Euros, having it developed costs the next 10,- Euros and obviously only few people are willing to pay that much for 36 exposures. The labs developing E6 in Germany seem to receive low numbers of exposed slide films and pool them over a longer period of time before processing them in a fresh batch of developer.  The last Ektachrome I shot is with the lab for 6 weeks now and I may only get it back after Christmas. Film shooters often praise the “phase of patience” they have to go through when sending their exposed films to the lab as a time of growing excitement. They even see this as the antedote to the instant gratification digital shooters have when they immediately check their images on the back of their cameras. Although I  don’t believe in this philosophy, I can relate to the excitement part of the story…when the turnover time is not longer than a week or two. But to wait eight to ten weeks for an E6 development puts me off – not talking about the costs incurred. Will I shoot Ektachrome in the future? I would like to, since I still love the vibrance and contrast of slide film. But looking at it from an economic perspective, it’s simply impossible.

Telling stories with a picture package – a Baltic experience

End of October we had a one-week holiday break and met with friends at the Baltic coast to enjoy the last warm days of the year on the beach. Photography-wise I was keen to finally put one of my refurbished Agfa Isolette folders to test. And that’s what I did. I loaded a leftover roll of Ektar 100 and strolled along a circular walkway starting at the beach and passing through the dunes into the coastal woodland. During this two-hour outing I walked along the shore line, through marram grass and alongside extensive reeds to finally reach the forest, a mix of beech, silver birch and pine trees. I had been on this walk before and thought why not trying to “summarize” all these landscape aspects in a series of photographic images. All on the same film material and all with the same 1:1 aspect ratio. I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to shoot enough images of suitable quality for this series on a single roll of film and a typical user error almost spoiled the endeavour: Several times I pressed the release button without a previously cocked shutter. Each time this forced me to spool the film a little further wasting at least one frame in the end. And here is what I saw:

A Baltic story shot with an AGFA Isolette III with 75mm/f3.5 Solinar on Kodak Ektar 100

It starts with a typical breakwater, a row of oak logs hammered into the sand to ease the surf rolling onto the beach. This scene gives you an immediate sense of place. The next image is basically the same area, but takes a bit more of the human condition into consideration. A single person sitting in a long-sleeve jumper at the shore line. And a beach volleyball net reminiscent of the past summer and thousands of tourists walking, jumping, running and sunbathing on this particular beach. Walking further along the shore line I came across this arrangement of shells, seagrass and beech leaves in autumnal color giving you a sense of season. This is immediately supported by the next two images which show beech and silver birch trees which just started to turn and a detail of the autumnal brown to orange bracken forming the understorey of the coastal woodland. The last image gives you a detailed whereabouts and shows the extensive reeds framing several ponds directly behind the sand dunes.

It is just a series of six images, none of them particularly spectacular, but “reading” through them one by one characterizes this particular spot at the Baltic, its nature and its feel in the autumnal season. Additionally, it tells the story of my two-hour walk on this particular day and carries a lot of memories associated with discovering and shooting these particular subjects.

Just a few words about the camera performance: As you may remember from a previous post (“And then there were three”) I refurbished three Agfa Isolettes and gave them not ony a proper CLA but also fixed a new bellows to each of them. As you can see from the images the new bellows are perfectly light tight and also peeking through the little red window on the back of the camera when advancing the film did not produce any deteriorating effects on the images – I wasn’t sure about that, since color film is sensitive to red light, whereas b/w emulsions are normally not. Apart from the stupid idea to press the shutter without previously cocking it, the shooting experience was great. Also the uncoupled distance meter worked perfectly and I am pretty sure that this light weight pocket-size medium format camera and its two sisters will be used quite often in the future.

Coming of Age – in street photography

For my last birthday I got a very special gift from my partner: a one-2-one half-day workshop in street photography with the Berlin-based photographer Martin U. Waltz ( Since my birthday is in November the weather was the only uncertainty when arranging the date. And it didn’t disappoint us: Martin and I met in a coffee bar at Potsdamer Platz and before heading out into the streets of Berlin we talked about a portfolio I had sent him a few days before. While sitting in the warmth, sipping coffee and talking photographs, we could see the rain clouds moving in. The light immediately faded and we decided to postpone the practical part to the upcoming week.

Then, the forecast showed a single sunny day with blue skies and we took our chance. Starting at Potsdamer Platz again we walked towards Brandenburger Tor and the government district. Alongside the river Spree we finally reached Friedrichstraße … and more than two hours of supervised photography were already over – within a blink of an eye. I brought my trusty Olympus 35 SP loaded with Kodak Ultramax 400. The film was okay-ish, but for such a bright day a slower film with less grain would have been the better choice. I shot a little more than one roll during the workshop, but finished the second one when walking back to Potsdamer Platz trying to practice what I just had learned during the past two hours.

The workshop was a fantastic experience. You cannot expect to come home with a set of brilliant street photographs only because a professional street photographer is hanging out with you supervising your humble beginnings. But what you definitely will learn is a different way of seeing. I learned more to see potential compositions than actually shot them during the workshop and this in my view is exactly what such a half-day course is all about. Seeing compositions which may make good photographs is not easy and being prepared to shooting them at the right moment is even more difficult. I missed a lot of shots, because I was simply to slow. And it was not a gear-related problem. The Olympus 35 SP is dead easy to use and I know it very well. It’s more that the untrained eye is not necessarily able to predict situations worth shooting and if you lift the camera to your eye only when the situation unfolds itself in front of you you’re almost certainly too late to freeze the perfect moment with your shot.

Looking at my results from the workshop it becomes clear that color plays an essential role in these photographs. The only exception is the image of the person walking against the sun. The color photograph was already kind of monochromatic and I changed it to b/w since the silhouette and the long shadow were the main subjects of the image.  Previously, I always thought that street photography is better in b/w, but this is complete nonsense. Celebrating the work of all the well-known documentary photographers from the 1940s, 50s and 60s we’re just biased towards street scenes in b/w, because most of these photographers shot the notorious Leica-TriX-combination. This is not to say that contemporary street photography cannot or should not be done in b/w anymore. Just the opposite! There are plenty of fantastic photographers out there who still shoot street predominantly in b/w. But if you restrict yourself to monochromatic images, you deliberately exclude the color dimension from your imagery. And this is certainly more challenging, because color-based releationships within a photograph cannot be used to compose an image. You’re left with structure, geometry, and spatial relationships as the main compositional elements. Maybe not a problem, if you’re used to (photographically) see in b/w, but definitely not as obvious for the beginner.

After developing, scanning and post-processing all my new street images, I sent another (small) portfolio to Martin and we met again to have a go at my results. As expected, there was still a lot to talk about composition-wise, but a few images work quite nicely and I was very happy to get at least a few shots which I liked and which also pleased my supervisor.

Same same but different!

When I scanned my first long exposure of photographic paper using a beer can pinhole camera I was thrilled by the result (see post: „Looooong time exposure“). I had also sent a few of those cameras to family all across Germany as a Christmas present. The idea behind it was that they should record the same 6 months as my cameras and once scanned my family members would receive a framed print of their half year local recording of the sun’s movement. Admittedly, a somewhat egoistic present, since I was probably even more excited to see what their pinhole cans would record over the same period of time. Would there be differences in the suntrails? At least the weather should have some impact, but I expected rather subtle deviations from an overall comparable result. But not quite so!

The pinholes were closed and all cans were collected at summer solstice. They were sent to me for scanning, but they had to wait until last night before I found the time to open them and reveal their secrets. And I was stunned how different the results were. The first can I opened in May was mounted to a dead tree in the field and recorded half a year of a Brandenburg open landscape. It showed the full amplitude of the sun’s ecliptic changes between winter and summer. The second pinholed beer can was mounted to our house in Berlin, and two more had been fixed to a roof near Göttingen and to a rain pipe near Celle, both in Lower Saxony. Finally, a last one was set up on a windowsill near Heidelberg from where it vanished at some point and unfortunately delivered nothing.

While the can mounted to our house basically produced the same image as the one from the field (apart from the background being houses in one and farmland in the other), the other two images had some strange peculiarities. The one from the roof obviously had an obstacle to the left as there is only the last third (early afternoon to evening) of the suntrails to be seen in the image. The left side of the photograph shows a curved black area with no exposure whatsoever. I remember now that the can was mounted to a wooden beam and this must have blocked the view to the East. However, the camera recording from the rain pipe gave another totally different impression. Although it had a clear view from East to West with only a few pine trees interfering, the suntrails showed only about a two month‘s time frame. It must have stopped recording around late February to early March. The only explanation for this is that just before spring something must have clotted or covered the pinhole. I think despite the missing white curves higher up in the sky this last image is still the most beautiful of all the solargraphies due to the clear and calm foreground.

183 days looking south (Berlin)

183 days looking south (Göttingen)

Not quite 183 days looking south (Celle)

Overall this was a fantastic experiment with a really stunning result. I love these images. They are very raw and blurry due to the optical properties of the coarse pinhole I pricked into the cans with a sewing needle. By the way, it’s not a focus problem, since in pinhole cameras everything is in focus as long as the size of the pinhole is in proper relation to the distance between the hole and the film (or in this case the photographic paper). The panoramic effect due to the cylindric form of the beer can and the beautiful color shadings when the scans were inverted into positives add another dimension to the images. I will certainly repeat this experiment at different locations and I can only recommend to try it yourself – it’s dead easy to prepare these cameras and the results are always rewarding.

And then there were three*

Some things take time, and there are certain things that seem to take forever. But finally, I made it! What the heck am I talking about?  It’s the refurbishment of my three Agfa Isolette folder cameras including bellows replacement and full CLA of all moveable parts. Apart from the focus rings, the range finders of the Mark III models gave me a hard time but eventually everything went well and all three cameras are in perfect working condition now.  To give you a short cutback:

Four years ago I purchased an Isolette II which I CLA-ed only to find out that the bellows had light leaks and needed replacement (see “The Isolette and I”). Falling in love with the overall form,  performance and haptics of these Agfa folders I started watching out for different models and about a year later I had another two of them in my collection (see “Isolette news”). While the first one has the 4.5 Apotar optics with three lenses, the other two have the more sophisticated Solinar optics (four-lens arrangement) with 4.5 and 3.5 max aperture, respectively. The latter ones had the same and common problems with a stuck focus, pinholes in the paper bellows and – being Mark III models – stuck range finders. After cleansing the bodies and lubricating all turning knobs and rings the most cumbersome work to do was replacing the bellows. However, this unexpectedly turned out to be rather straightforward, though a little time consuming. I used pre-manufactured bellows by Sandeha Lynch, which are of very high quality and easy to mount on the metal skeleton of a stripped Agfa folder. Additionally, they are available in different colors, which gives these old medium format light-weighters a little pop. The last bit to do was calibrating the focus and the (uncoupled) range finders, a job I only managed to do a few months ago! Almost four years to finish this tiny project…it’s unbelievable.

The three Agfa Isolettes in their full glory! From left to right: Mark III with Solinar 75/f3.5 (green bellows), Mark III with Solinar 85/f4.5 (black bellows), and Mark II with Apotar 85/f4.5 (blue bellows).

And what did not happen yet!? …   You guessed it already! So far, I did not find the time to shoot a single frame with either of these cameras, despite the fact that they are staring at me every day from their cabinet since I added the last drop of Ballistol to their metal framing to give them the last and shiny finish. The collector’s trap again as outlined in “Procrastinator’s corner” and “Photographer or collector”! But their time will come, I am sure.

* This album made me a fan of Genesis in the late 1970s. Can you believe that it took me some ten years to “discover” their older records, which I liked even better then?

I missed the mist

It’s early September now and during the day the thermometer may still reach more than 25°C. But since about three weeks I smell the typical autumnal scent in the mornings. You certainly know what I am talking about: When you open the door in the morning of a late summer‘s day and a breeze enters the room still carrying the cool and slightly damp air of the preceding night, an earthy wooden smell fills the room, which is so typical and always the first sign that summer’s over. What I didn’t think about that morning I smelled it the first time was that early in the day the landscape may also start covering itself in mist – you only have to leave your cosy bed in time outsmarting the sun to catch it.

On a normal day, I would have grabbed one of my cameras and headed towards our local woodland, a rather unimpressive assemblage of trees which partly was planted only after the wall came down and which is overpopulated with dog walkers, mountain bikers, runners and what have you. The trees planted around the former border patrol paths are still young and their arrangement is more like a plantation rather than a natural forest. The older parts of the forest, which 32 years ago were still behind the iron curtain, are mainly ivy-infested oak trees and silver birches many of which suffering heavily from the droughts of the past two summers. Interspersed are quite a few introduced species like bird cherry, robinia and ash-leaf maple. Nearly all birch trees are dead and many have fallen into the understory giving the impression as if a massive dinosaur has recently broke its way through the woods. The woodpeckers love it, but they may be the only  ones. With some autumnal mist though there are quite a few compositions to be found, but without it it’s a boring piece of forest, which doesn’t even try to hide its man-made origin.

BUT…it was not a normal day. Both our boys started at their new schools and we had to leave the house very early to guide them on their first way to what will be their learning places for the next 6-8 years. When closing the door of the house I looked towards the woodland and saw the mist creeping through the trees! No chance whatsoever to capture it, since we had to go and with clear skies above us the sun would certainly have burned it once I was back from my school tour. So, I saw the first mist of the year, but I missed to capture it on film. Nothing to worry about though…there will be more misty mornings over the coming months. I just have to be prepared for it.

Loooooong time exposure

I don’t know what you think about long time exposures, but what I see – at least online – is always the same boring seascape with the water surface smoothed out by using an exposure time of several seconds or the even more obvious waterfall image with the cascade of water softened to a white fuzzy cloth hanging down the cataracts. Ever so often these images run under the category “fine art”, but to be honest neither do I know what this overused term describing a certain type of photographic image really means, nor do I think that these images are particularly innovative or exciting.

What I was after with my latest little project was kind of the opposite to “fine art” and may be termed “raw art” instead. I wanted to capture the sunlit landscape with a pinholed beer can. The blurry images showing the trail of the sun which gets steeper and steeper over several months towards the summer solstice always fascinated me. Usually the landscape on these solargraphies is somewhat dark and only faintly visible. The basis for this kind of photography is cheap and simple. You need a can or any light tight box with a pinhole in it and a piece of photographic paper. The latter is sensitive to light, but not as sensitive as film. What normally turns out as a positive in the darkroom is used here to produce a negative on paper. This can be scanned with an ordinary flatbed scanner and inverted in post processing. A clean and straightforward process with no chemicals involved. There is plenty of how-to videos online and after watching some of these, I made six pinhole beer can cameras, three to be used by myself and the other three to be sent to family members all over Germany. All cameras were installed around the 21st December last year to start with the lowest possible sun trail on the horizon. The plan was to expose the photo paper for the entire half year until 21st June 2021 to record the full amplitude of the sun’s yearly trail.

One camera, which I had mounted on a fence at a woodland’s edge only survived for about two weeks. Someone got too curious, ripped the camera-fixing duck tape off the fence post, threw it into the landscape and took the camera with him (or her). But the other one which was mounted on a dead tree trunk made it throughout winter and spring. I collected it last week, since I feared that over the coming weeks the sun trail would be so high up in the sky that it may run out of the image. The remaining beer cans are still in position and will be collected in about a month’s time.

And here is what I got from my first harvest:

Isn’t that remarkable? A shutter opened for a little more than 5 months resulted in this amazing record of time with uninterrupted bright trails from left to right showing sunny days and scattered trail lines marking temporary cloud covers. Almost half a year burned into a single frame. At least for me that’s something to think about! What is time? What is a day, a week, a month?  What is the relationship between the seemingly static landscape and the daily changing position of our cosmic energy source? These are questions which I see arising from this kind of pictures and this is exactly what I love about this unusual type of photography. You look at the image and it throws questions at you, uncertainties, even uncomfortable feelings. I know, solargraphy is not so unusual and it had been used for more than a century even to solve scientific problems, but nevertheless these images are still fascinating today. Even more so, since most contemporary photographs are taken with little high-tech computers called digital cameras and high-tech lenses and produce these superclean and ultrasharp images we’re confronted with everyday and everywhere. Solargraphy images by contrast are just the opposite. They are raw, fuzzy, even gritty sometimes and the only device needed to make them is a dark box with a hole in it.

For those of you interested in the technicalities of the image: I used 30 year old ORWO silk matte paper, which is known to produce some aberrant color gradients in solargraphy images. The final image was scanned as color positive with an Epson V700 flatbed scanner at a resolution of 800 dpi and post-processed in Photoshop. Now that I know that the setup works as expected, I am very curious to see the results of the remaining four beer cans. Once I have the scans ready, I will certainly share them in a future post.

Struggling with my photography – is it any good?

Being back into photography for more than four years now (after a long break of more than a decade) I am looking at what I’ve produced so far and – to be honest – it’s not where I want it to be. But the question is: Where is “where”? What exactly causes me struggling with my portfolio? Having a closer look at my results, it looks like a little bit of everything. There is no overarching theme, no consistent “language”, no favorite genre. Instead, it jumps from 35mm to 120mm, from color to b/w, from street to landscape to architecture and back to pinhole photography. It is the result of cheerfully playing with different formats, gear, and film stock. Perfectly OK for a hobbyist, who still tries to find his style. And even more rewarding for someone who loves to play around with old cameras. So, what’s the problem?

Rumors have it (thanks to HCB) that your first 10.000 pictures are only good for the waste bin. This translates into “practice, practice, practice” as THE guiding principle to earn the right to call yourself a photographer. Even when adding my early day photography to what I have produced during the last four years, in terms of numbers I am still not there, yet. But is it really just a lack of practice?

As a creative it’s quite common to be unsatisfied with your product. Being your strongest critic is almost inevitable and we all seem to quickly underrate our own work rather than celebrating our achievements. On the other hand, a critical view on our own body of work with all our background knowledge we’ve acquired through experience, book reading, talking to mentors and fellow creatives, visiting exhibitions etc massively helps to assess our portfolios and, thereby, constantly grow as a photographer. However, the core difficulty is to find your own style or to produce work, which is consistent – whatever this consistency is made of.

Playing around with many cameras and different film stocks is fun, but it seems to keep me away from profoundly learning one piece of kit and/or one type of film to e.g. produce a consistent look independent of the ambient light conditions. I always try to think in projects and then choose what I think is the most suitable camera and film for it. But ever so often the projects I come up with are tiny and if there are more than three or four of them at a time you bet that every single one seemingly needs different gear and emulsions. The result again is swapping cameras and film stocks instead of sticking to one combination and deeply learn how to make the most of it.

Despite the fact that I love the restrictions when using old cameras and certain types of film, I obviously have difficulties to simplify my options any further. Why not restricting myself to e.g. monochrome and square format and deeply explore all options this combination can give me? Why not pushing the limits of a single color emulsion to getting to grips with this very stock? I think it has to do with the fear of missing out. Who hasn’t cursed herself when a perfect color scene unfolded before your eyes and the only camera around your neck was loaded with a b/w film? However, this may only be problematic for the immature photographer. The pro knows when this scene is not her style of photography and, therefore, can fully enjoy the moment without feeling the need to press a shutter button.

As outlined above, it’s still a long way to go…

Photographer or collector?

It’s been a while that I have posted something here. The pandemic took (and still takes) its toll. Fortunately, neither me nor anybody of my family caught the virus (yet), but the mixture of homeoffice, homeschooling, homestaying and home-everything is racking our nerves. And although a restrictive lifestyle regarding travel, commuting, contacts with other people etc. seems the only appropriate measure to counteract the spread of COVID-19, we all suffer from these regulations since it is difficult for our minds to trick our evolutionary heritage. Humans have evolved to live in groups after all!

What does this have to do with my photography, you ask? A lot, because to be creative you need some freedom of mind, some brain capacity to be devoted to your creative task. When my day-to-day job in the Museum entered our home through the new homeoffice regulations the space for this freedom, this capacity got smaller…and it still does to this day. Less and less time to go out shooting, the best weather conditions pass by while you’re ZOOMing your life away in front of a computer screen, and even if you happen to have an hour or two for a short photowalk, you are too tired and your empty brain can’t be bothered to think about grabbing a camera, let alone stepping out and follow up on your last photo project.

And here we’re coming closer to the title of this post. For an ‘old-camera aficionado’ like me these times are dangerous. The ‘gear acquisition syndrome’ aka GAS likes it, when your mind is stressed out by daily routines and duties. It’s like the little devil on your shoulder saying: ‘Come on, you’ve been sitting the whole day in front of the computer…a few more moments to browse the latest offers at auction X or camera shop Y doesn’t make a difference’. Or: ‘ Your mood needs a little lifting. Don’t you remember the sweet feeling of bargaining a favourite camera online?’ Or: ‘You’ve been working so hard today and all the online meetings were so stressful, you should treat yourself with a little camera shopping, don’t you think?’ And so it goes on and on….

And that’s exactly what happened to me over the last couple of months resulting in an increase  of cameras, lenses and photo books in my collection, naturally ‘counterbalanced’ by a decrease in output. I couldn’t withstand the lulling voice of the devil on my shoulder. As outlined in an earlier post, I am not interested in regularly dusting items, which I own just for the sake of having them. It’s still my aspiration to use all cameras and lenses in my collection for proper photographic work. And so there are a few more little gems already loaded with film, amongst them an EXA 500 to finally make use of my CZJ 35mm f/2.8 Flektogon, and the iconic AGFA Optima 1035, a point-and-shoot from the 1970s with a fixed 40mm f/2.8 lens and a beautiful design. The top deal though was a camera I previously described as unnecessary or even useless for me, because I thought that with my Olympus 35 SP I already owned a rather similar one. But the offer was so good and the camera in such perfect condition that when I hold it in my hands while sitting in the kitchen of the seller and negotiating the price with her I already knew that I would never give it back again. Yes, you’re right, I bought my first Leica that day. An M2 from 1958 with a ZEISS 35mm f/2.8 Biogon lens. What a fantastic camera that is. Wearing glasses I still struggle a bit with the 35mm framelines as they almost touch the edges of the viewfinder, but this just needs getting used to.

Anything else? Oh yes… I sold my Canon AE1 program and one of my two Olympus 35 SP rangefinder cameras since neither was used over the last two years. And I finally repaired the bellows of two of my AGFA Isolettes (see posts “The Isolette and I” and “Isolette news”) so that all three of them are now in working condition waiting to be tested. Last not least, I decided to change my scanning workflow and to switch from my flatbed scanner to a digital camera at least for 35mm film. There are still some bits and pieces missing to start with it, but I am really looking forward to speeding up the rather boring scanning process and increasing the quality of my scans. As you will know, flatbeds are not the best choice for digitizing small film formats.

So, what am I? A photographer or a collector? I can easily live with being both! I love photography and I have plenty of ideas for future projects, which hopefully will find their way on to this website over time. And on the other hand I love old cameras and I probably won’t stop buying them, repairing them and using them to the best of my knowledge and capability. It all feels like playing, with the former being a more serious endeavour, the latter being the fun part.

 Alright, that’s it for now. Just a short update on GAS-related developments during the last months. I will certainly post more on my experience with the new cameras, but this has to be supported by images which currently are either still in camera or are waiting to be developed and scanned.

Stay safe and check in on Light & Grain for the next one.

Something for a change

I am not a studio photographer. The majority of my photographs are taken outdoors…apart from the usual documentary shots of family life, which often show inhouse situations. Therefore, the images I want to share with you today are somewhat unusual. The photos are already 8 months old and were produced in a mock-up studio situation. And here is the story behind it:

My elder son told us that his biology teacher had tried to get corn seeds germinating in the middle of winter by immersing one side of a whole corn cob in water. The result was rather disappointing with only three or four seedlings appearing after a week or two. Back home my youngster was excited to repeat this experiment, naturally with the intention to beat his teacher on this one and present a much more impressive result in class.

We had two fully dried corn cobs, leftovers from an autumn decoration on the dining table. We put one of them into a flat bowl with a bit of water and then we waited. After five or six days the first white rootlets appeared and made their way to the bottom of the bowl. And soon after, the first green started reaching for light. Seed after seed came to life again and after three weeks you could hardly see the cob anymore. The young corn plants were about ten to fifteen centimeters high and the bottom of the bowl was filled with a network of intertwining shiny white roots.

At some stage of development I realised that the green and white seedlings produced a beautiful contrast against the golden corn seeds. Since I didn’t want to kill the young pants in the freezing winter temperatures on our terrace, I decided to setup a tiny studio situation with a chair, a background cloth and natural light near the window. I placed the cob on a white glass plate and took my rather heavy macro gear (see my other blog about macro photography here) consisting of the Nikon F90x, the Soligor C/D Macro MC 90mm f/2.5  and a Nikon SB21 ring flash for handheld shooting. Again, I used Kodak Gold 200, which delivers vibrant colors, high contrast and decent sharpness.

My Nikon F90x with the 90mm f/2.5 Macro lens and a ring flash in its full glory

There are a couple of things I especially like in the resulting images. First and foremost it is the complementary colors of the green and the orange tones against the blue background. Also the highly ordered arrangement of the seeds contrasts well with the chaotic growth of the seedlings and their roots. And finally, the photos illustrate one of the fundamental processes of life on Earth, the growth of a new plant from its seed, but the way my studio setup and the chosen gear renders the subject gives it a somewhat artificial appearance. It looks too clean, almost misplaced, like in a laboratory situation. At least that’s what comes to my mind when I look at the images. But see for yourself!

Corn cob 1-4

Berlin, 2020, Nikon F90x, Soligor C/D Macro MC 90mm f/2.5, Nikon SB21 ring flash with diffusor, Kodak Gold 200