Expanding The Horizon
Great photographers each develop their
own signature style. Ansel Adam’s was
known for his pioneering spirit, Robert
Capa for his insane courage, and Steve
McCurry for blending into his surroundings.
But a lesser known quality about many
photographers is the amount of time
they devote to passing along their
knowledge to other photographers.
I met Chip Forelli a year ago at the Apple Store in Manhattan. He was giving a talk on his long exposure techniques and night photography that I knew would be excellent. If you don’t know Chip by name, you definitely know his work. He is inside of every new Apple computer. His graphic and compelling style caught Apple’s attention a few years ago and he has been a Mac staple ever since.
The images Chip creates are often made in solitary conditions, especially at night, without any assistants. Photography is a meditation for him, one which he prefers to do alone. But when its all finished, he loves to share his findings with the rest of us. Part artist and part technician, when Chip is not camped out in the dark, he teaching workshops in the field and providing instruction in Photoshop. He is an extremely generous and was nice enough to sit down with me to talk about his newest film photographic service endeavors, including scanning, his philosophies on taking pictures in your own back yard, and a story about getting arrested at Kennedy Airport.
1. Why did you decide to expand and offer professional photographic services?
(Most photographers are happy to do their own scanning and printing and not share the wealth of knowledge).
A good number of artists relocated from the New York City area to Northeastern Pennsylvania near me. Many of them have film originals of their artwork and need digital files. They are also frustrated by the efforts in printing. Scanning and printing turned into other streams of revenue and satisfied their need for these types of services. Its a win win situation.
2. What services are you offering?
Right now I am offering services photographing flat art and sculpture, scanning in 8 or 16 bit, archival inkjet printing on a 10 color Epson Pro Stylus 7900, Adobe Photoshop workshops and private instruction. I thoroughly enjoy doing it all!
3. Since there has been a resurgence in film photography in the last year, what should people know if
they plan on scanning their film? Can someone take pictures with scanning in mind or should
they shoot normally?
There is no need to shoot differently for scanning than if you were developing in the darkroom. The same basic rule applies; avoid excessive contrast or grain. If you are shooting color positive film, use a film that is not too contrasty or grainy. If you are shooting black & white films expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights. This was a technique I learned from Ansel Adams. In all cases its better to start out with a slightly flatter original and bump up the contrast later in the darkroom or with Photoshop.
4. What formats and systems do you use regularly? 35mm, Medium Format, Large Format?
I use mostly medium format Hasselbad, Hasselblad Flexbody, and 4×5 view cameras.
5. How has your experience with shooting/processing your own film been useful for maximizing
I find that processing my own film is the most essential step in securing image quality and its survival. Controlling the contrast is crucial, especially when shooting night photography in black and white (which I love). Compensating development is necessary to drastically reduce extreme contrast while retaining detail in the highlights and shadows. There is an esoteric technique I learned from John Sexton, which is not readily available through film labs. I wouldn’t trust my film in someone else’s hands.
6. What equipment do you use for scanning? Are there any differences in scanning B/W, color
negatives, or slide film?
I scan with an Imcon 848 dedicated film scanner, which scans from 35mm up to 4×5 and reflective art up to 8.5″x11″. It can be used for black & white, color negative and color positive film – the settings are slightly different for each film type.
7. Do you believe film is dead or dying? Is it important for new photographer to understand shooting with
film, even if they eventually migrate to digital?
Shooting film with a manual camera still has a major edge over digital capture for several reasons. Film is less fraught with the complications that occur in sophisticated technology. I shoot outside, in the cold, and at night on a regular basis. With digital cameras you have to deal with battery drainage in cold weather, spots on the sensors, cable releases that need batteries and user manuals, and unnecessary features that act as roadblocks to the spontaneous, fluid, and instinctive reactions to the subject matter.
Digital cameras try to solve all the shooting problems with features instead of the photographer taking charge. I also see a difference in the quality of the film image missing in the digital capture like the smooth tonal transitions in highlights and noise free shadows. The advantages of shooting digitally, namely image review and not needing to scan do not outweigh the liabilities of digital capture. Many photographers I know are reverting back to film. Its important for any serious photographer to be aware of these differences. To me, film is not dead or dying. If and when digital solves all its inherent problems, I still might not switch. I have a considerable investment in a totally manual camera system that works superbly.
8. What are the common mistakes you see in bad scans?
In most scanners, the film original lays flat during the scan. Inevitably there is some buckling in the film resulting in out of focus sections. Imacon scanners avoid this problem because as the film is fed into the machine it is bent in a slight curve. The sensor reads the film at the apex of the curve yielding a perfectly sharp scan.
Another mistake I see are scans that are too contrasty and the highlights are blown out and the shadows are not black. There is a greater tonal range available on a high end scanner.
9. What was a major breakthrough you had in the development of your photography?
On a flight back from California, I looked out the window and saw glowing areas on the ground. The setting sun was hitting the side of a white barn. Everything else was still dark, but the reflection coming from the barn made a glow that struck me. When I got back to the studio I successfully recreated the lighting. It turned into my signature lighting technique for still life.
When I started doing my personal landscape work, three years after opening my studio, I made an image while traveling in New Zealand. It was one of my first landscapes, but Communications Arts Magazine featured it as their cover and I became known professionally for landscape work ever since.
10. There is a common myth that to work as a photographer you must live in a city. You have
discovered some amazing images almost in your back yard. How do you generate exposure
living outside of a major city?
I’ve learned that meaningful images wait for us in unexpected places. Achieving recognition through promotion will always be matter of getting your work in front of prospective buyers of photography. The advantage of having a distinctive style is that it enables one to live anywhere.
11. What advice would you give to younger photographers?
Carry a business card or samples of your work when you work at night. I shoot at night a lot. Especially after 9/11 police and security are very jumpy when they see someone in the dark with a tripod. One time after driving a friend to Kennedy Airport, I noticed it’s power sub station with these beautiful clouds billowing out of the stacks. Since I usually keep my camera in the car, I slid my 4×5 through the fence and set up the tripod without jumping the fence. While I was under the dark cloth, my camera vanished. The next thing I saw was a security guard holding my camera, who obviously missed the artistic merits of the power station. I always keep some cards and a book in the trunk for situations like this. Once they saw my work, they let me go.
12. How important is good equipment?
Knowledge of craft is more important than top shelf equipment; It is an integral part of any successful artistic endeavor. Without a solid understanding of craft the expression will always be compromised. What’s necessary is a fine balance between aesthetic sensibility and skill in craft. If you alter the balance, you run the risk of becoming overly conceptual or preoccupied with technique.
13. What turned you on to digital scanning?
In 1997, I was shooting a steel pier on Lake Michigan. It was so cold that I actually stuck the neutral density filter inside the bellows of my Linhof Technika. The gel started to curl towards the film during the long exposure and the imperfections in the gel were brought into focus. I tried many techniques to fix it in the dark room, but it was not possible. A friend of mine made a Hi-Res scan of the negative and corrected it with Photoshop. It was at this point that I realized the potential of digital solve problems.
14. What is the best meal you’ve had while traveling?
A few years ago I was shooting a job in Georgia and my assistant heard about a roadside BBQ spot. After a little homework, we found a line of cars leading up to this little shack. Do you remember the soup Nazi from Seinfeld? This guy was a few years before that air, he was the BBQ Nazi. If you weren’t sure what you wanted he’s scream “Eh neeext!” in his southern drawl. There was nothing fancy about the food, but it was the best BBQ I’ve ever tasted. We laughed and ate until we were sick.
Here is a list of Chip Forelli’s upcoming workshops